Posts tagged with "english" - Faerye Net 2011-03-25T20:29:14+00:00 Felicity Shoulders "Perfect" needn't be an enemy 2011-03-25T20:29:14+00:00 2011-03-25T20:30:50+00:00 <p>I have had, and thoroughly enjoyed, two semesters of formal training in Latin. (In addition to a few private lessons from my retired Latin teacher grandma when I was ten.) This is just enough Latin to be dangerous: enough to, say, puzzle out the odd inscription or be confused by the differences between liturgical and classical. Enough Latin to see the bones lying under the skin of our own language.</p> <p>I am also a perfectionist. A perfectionist of a particularly pernicious persuasion: a procrastinating one. This is often a problem for me, but in the most important sphere of my life, the writing one, I think I&#8217;ve made my peace with it. Writing can never be perfect, only as good as we can make it with the vision and skill we have available to us. Someday our vision or skill may be better, but now we have to surrender and give up our offering to the world, imperfect.</p> <p>Or is it? We are so accustomed to thinking of perfect in its English sense, (<span class="caps">OED</span> definition 1a: &#8220;Of, marked, or characterized by supreme moral or spiritual excellence or virtue; righteous, holy; immaculate; spiritually pure or blameless&#8221;) but I prefer its Latin origins: <em>per</em>, through or throughout; and the past participle of <em>facere</em>, to do or make.</p> <p>That which is perfect has been gone through; that which is perfect is <em>thoroughly made</em>. That, the shape of the word which I feel through the flesh of use and connotation when I heft it, I celebrate and do not fear. Perfection doesn&#8217;t have to be an impossible, theoretical absolute. All of us, perfectionists or not, can aspire to produce something that is rigorously, mindfully conceived and carried through with care: something that is <em>thoroughly made</em>.</p> Words for writers 2011-03-07T23:14:07+00:00 2011-03-07T23:15:21+00:00 <p>Once upon a time, I was uploading any number of photos from my writing school days to <a href="" target="links">Flickr</a>. Now, I have a tendency toward folksonomy, and a general philosophy that it&#8217;s best to capture data at the point of entry, whether or not you are sure you&#8217;ll use it later. Thus, I had the urge to not only tag the photos with the names of the people in them, but with their affiliation: Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction.</p> <p>I didn&#8217;t exactly want to type open-quote fiction student close-quote a thousand times: what I wanted was a one word solution, preferably as elegant as &#8220;poet&#8221;. What I got was two words (because of course I wanted to capture the Lying or Truth-Attempting valence of the prose students as well): <strong>proser</strong> and <strong>fictionist</strong>.</p> <p>These are ungainly words. They lack the suavity of &#8220;poet&#8221;, but I have a real affection for them. &#8220;Proser&#8221; is so, well, <em>prosy</em>. It puts one syllable in front of the other: pro-zurr. Plod plod plod, building complete sentences out of verbs and subjects. Writing until you hit the margin and then doggedly keeping going. <span class="caps">PROSERS</span>, baby. Grunts of the literary world. Boots in the mud. <span class="caps">PROSERS</span>.</p> <p>As for &#8220;fictionist&#8221;, it has more pretensions, but that&#8217;s only fitting. It has narrow little i&#8217;s, peering at the world, seeing it all as fodder. It&#8217;s more ornate, more full of artifice, and that&#8217;s what fictionists are. Peddlers of artifice.</p> <p>I do so love words. I love other tools too &#8212; pencils, shading sticks, even erasers, and the odd and occasionally dangerous tools with which oboe reeds are made. I love their form that follows function, the capabilities they hold. Words are the same, but even better: you don&#8217;t have to carry them or store them or buy them, just remember them, and if you lose one all you need is a few clues to find it again. As I&#8217;ve <a href="" target="links">purported before</a>, language is our birthright. The toolbox is vast and joyously expandable. And every once in a while, it&#8217;s so nice just to lay out the tools and ponder their forms, admire in each its individual gleaming.</p> These are a few of my favorite words, Part XVI 2011-02-18T11:42:36+00:00 2011-02-18T11:42:36+00:00 <p>I have, it seems, a childish weakness for words that sound like what they mean. Not in the crude onomatopoetic sense (or not <em>only</em> in that sense) but in a rhythmically or associatively suggestive way. I think it&#8217;s the rhythm of this one that makes it fall under this category:</p> <p><strong>judder</strong>: per the <span class="caps">OED</span>, &#8220;To shake violently, esp. of the mechanism in cars, cameras, etc.; also of the voice in singing, to oscillate between greater and less intensity.&#8221; &#8212; I think the oscillation is there in the violent shake too, hence the association with mechanisms.</p> <p>I find myself reaching for this word a lot, and I think it&#8217;s the discontinuity in the middle, the &#8220;dd&#8221; that cuts off the sound abruptly, like your teeth coming together as you are shaken rhythmically by a crude, juddering engine. I also like to use it for things which judder to a halt, in which case you can imagine the &#8220;jud&#8221; repeating and the &#8220;der&#8221; as the final sigh of repose. Judjudjudjudjudder. Phew.</p> rogo, rogare 2010-11-12T13:27:32+00:00 2010-11-12T13:30:08+00:00 <p><em>Rogō, rogāre</em> is one of those Latin verbs &#8211; &#8220;to ask&#8221;, mostly &#8211; that have spawned all sorts of useful English words.</p> <p><b>Interrogate</b>, obviously.<br /> <b><a href="" target="links">Abrogate</a></b>, always a good one. Great for eloquent rants.<br /> <b><a href="">Derogate</a>,</b> more fuel for your <a href="" target="links">Phillippic</a>.<br /> <b><a href="" target="links">Arrogate</a></b>, the very precise word which inspired this post. I like the specificity of it, and the sort of tumbling fall of the sound.<br /> <b><a href="" target="links">Rogation:</a></b> this one I didn&#8217;t even know.</p> <p>Maybe all roads don&#8217;t lead to Rome, but I like the sign posts on the ones that do.</p> Regionalisms: flimsy footwear 2010-11-01T20:35:08+00:00 2010-11-01T20:36:01+00:00 <p>At the horrendous hour of 4:25 am on Thursday, I was trying not to fall asleep in the shower or fall behind in my travel itinerary for World Fantasy Convention. I looked down at my feet, and by some miracle managed to think the complex thought &#8220;I don&#8217;t like to shower barefoot in hotels.&#8221; This led to the even more complex question of what to do about this problem, which led to my wondering if they sell the proper footwear at the airport and in turn to my making a small resolution. No matter how sleepy I was, I wasn&#8217;t going to embarrass myself by asking after the object in my native dialect.</p> <center><a href="" title="Floating Havaianas Again by Jessica.James, on Flickr"><img src="" width="500" height="375" alt="Floating Havaianas Again" /></a></center> <p>You see, this informal footwear, a foam sole with two plastic or cloth straps which radiate from the space between the first and second toes, has gotten me into trouble before. Growing up as I did in Oregon, we called these things &#8220;thongs&#8221;. Signs at the local Bi-Mart advertising a sale: &#8220;<span class="caps">THONGS</span> $1.99/<span class="caps">PAIR</span>&#8221;. Mom, always worrying: &#8220;Thongs are for the beach or the pool! Don&#8217;t wear them all the time, they&#8217;ll deform your toes!&#8221;</p> <p>I learned that this was not the term the rest of the country used when I went to college. Yes, in the schoolyear which would see the release of the Sisqo song about that <span class="caps">OTHER</span> sort of &#8220;thong&#8221;, I was an intensely prim 17-year-old very fastidious about her feet, and all the Midwesterners laughed and laughed. &#8220;What? What&#8217;s wrong? It&#8217;s a thong. What do <em>you</em> call them?&#8221; I think my ears may have out-heated the radiator that day.</p> <p>Anyhow, I managed to unearth some feeble manicure-shop freebies Thursday morning, and didn&#8217;t have to ask any airport shop clerks about &#8220;flip-flops&#8221; (as I&#8217;ve learned to call them). But I did enjoy the memory, because it triggered another one: reading <a href="" target="links">Craig Lesley&#8217;s</a> <em><a href="" title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780312147389'>The Sky Fisherman</a></em>. Craig grew up in a different part of Oregon from me and from <a href="" target="links">my parents</a>, but this novel of an Oregon boyhood was palpably in my home language, the dialect of the adults pervasively familiar. Of course, by the next time I had a chance to talk to Craig, the only example of this I could remember was that remarkable piece of footwear, the &#8220;thong&#8221;.</p> <p>Stop laughing!</p> Word envy 2010-10-26T17:29:24+00:00 2010-10-26T17:30:26+00:00 <p>Every time I listen to the <a href="" target="links">Franz Ferdinand</a> song &#8220;What You Meant,&#8221; I am struck by the opening line: &#8220;As I took step number four/ Into the close of your tenement&#8221;. It&#8217;s obviously not American English. The band is Scottish, so this isn&#8217;t simply the matter of, as George Bernard Shaw* had it, England and America being separated by a common language. Scotland has its own English as well as its own Gaelic.</p> <p>In Scottish, the word &#8220;tenement&#8221; is, according to the <a href="" target="links"><span class="caps">OED</span></a>, used primarily for a single edifice subdivided for multiple tenants. Each subdivision is a &#8220;house&#8221;, even if it&#8217;s quite small (In England, the <span class="caps">OED</span> informs, this is precisely reversed.) A little different from our American sense of the word, which falls under the OED&#8217;s more general denotation &#8220;A building or house to dwell in&#8221;, but in my experience of modern usage has a connotation of being run-down or slummy.</p> <p>But that&#8217;s not the part of this phrase that appeals to me, while it is part of its strangeness to my ear. The word is <strong>close</strong>. The first definition is &#8220;<strong>1.</strong> <em>gen.</em> An enclosed place, an enclosure.&#8221; and it&#8217;s interesting to see all the other definitions depart from this in a series of semantic narrowings, or as the <span class="caps">OED</span> puts it: &#8220;<strong>2.</strong> In many senses more or less specific&#8230;&#8221; You can almost see the lines of the enclosure jump around as you run down the several meanings and shades of meaning for this one, now largely marked with the shameful &#8220;<em>Obs.</em>&#8221; for obsolescence or confined to local shadings: the continuation of #2, &#8220;An enclosed field (now chiefly local, in the English midlands)&#8221;; #3b, &#8220;A farm-yard&#8221; in Kent, Sussex, and Scotland.</p> <p>But it&#8217;s #4 that fits snugly with our tenement: <br /> <blockquote>4. An entry or passage. Now, in Scotland, esp. one leading from the street to dwelling houses, out-houses, or stables, at the back, or to a common stair communicating with the different floors or ‘flats’ of the building. Also variously extended to include the common stair, the open lane or alley, or the court, to which such an entry leads.</blockquote></p> <p>This is what I wish we had: a word for an entryway that sounds this cozy, that seems to emphasize by its sound and its accidental neighbors in etymology, nearness. And I don&#8217;t think we do, for all my maundering about the OED&#8217;s captured language <a href="" target="links">as birthright</a>. I don&#8217;t think this use of &#8220;close&#8221; is at all active in my part of America, or that you could rationally expect any random conversational partner or reader to grasp this meaning. It&#8217;s too bad. I reached for &#8220;close&#8221; today as I worked on my novel, took it down, looked it over, and found that its plug was not adopted for American sockets.</p> <p>*Apparently: this is one of those quotes attributed to almost everyone witty who has lived in the last few centuries.</p> Petty Peevishness VI 2009-01-28T16:37:33+00:00 2009-01-29T14:08:38+00:00 <p>Dear sweet English. You&#8217;re such an enthusiastic language. You like to grab. But it&#8217;s good to take care of the things you borrow from other languages, even if those languages confuse you.</p> <p>It is unacceptable to fail to pronounce consonants in French words and phrases simply because French has more silent letters than English does.</p> <p>It is wrong to pronounce &#8220;the blow of mercy&#8221; &#8220;the blow of grease&#8221;. Especially on national radio. The momentary blindness of wrath could cause a pedant to crash her car.</p> <p><strong>Coup de grace.</strong> Grahss. GrahSSSSSSSS. Please. For automotive safety.</p> Anglo-Saxon on the banks of the River Anduin 2009-01-20T23:03:09+00:00 2009-01-20T23:12:56+00:00 <p>There are many chunks of writing advice that float around in the academic soup, giving and receiving flavor. (Maybe I need some about metaphor, myself.) One of these is about using Anglo-Saxon words. I&#8217;ve no idea if it originated with John Gardner&#8217;s classic <a href="" target="links"><em>The Art of Fiction</em></a>, but he does put it forth:<br /> <blockquote>If the writer says &#8220;creatures&#8221; instead of &#8220;snakes,&#8221; if in an attempt to impress us with fancy talk he uses Latinate terms like &#8220;hostile maneuvers&#8221; instead of sharp Anglo-Saxon words like &#8220;thrash,&#8221; &#8220;coil,&#8221; &#8220;spit,&#8221; &#8220;hiss,&#8221; and &#8220;writhe,&#8221; if instead of the desert&#8217;s sands and rocks he speaks of the snakes&#8217; &#8220;inhospitable abode,&#8221; the reader will hardly know what picture to conjure up on his mental screen.</blockquote></p> <p>I have historically been doubtful of this stricture, especially since some teachers apply it with less discrimination than Gardner does above. Obviously your aim in writing fiction shouldn&#8217;t be to impress the reader with your vocabulary, but cutting out an entire rich swath of our hodgepodge language seems extreme. For instance, you can&#8217;t get more Latinate than &#8216;susurrate&#8217;, but the onomatopoeic felicities of its repeated <em>s</em> and soft murmur can&#8217;t be overstated. The rule does have its points &#8211; choose a word that has auditory punch when possible, and don&#8217;t use abstractions when grittiness will communicate better. Luckily, I&#8217;ve been given a meta-rule that trumps all the rules and lets me pick and choose &#8211; &#8220;Find the rules, break the rules,&#8221; per Marvin Bell &#8211; a one rule to rule them all, if you will.</p> <p>Which brings me to the true topic of this post. I was tempted by the <a href="" target="links"> <em>Lord of the Rings</em> reread</a> into undertaking that monumental task myself (thus interrupting my Aubrey-Maturin reread/read, as well as the <a href="" target="links">almost 200</a> fresh books I have on my list.) But true to form, once I&#8217;d caught up with the group reread, I could not stop and plunged headily onwards. Ask any of my primary (and some of my secondary) school teachers about my ability to see, process and act upon a chapter break appropriately. Ahem.</p> <p>I plunged through Volume One*, <em>The Ring Sets Out</em> and was wrapping up Volume Two, <em>The Ring Goes South</em>, when I ran up against a word. &#8220;That night they camped on a small <b>eyot</b> close to the western bank.&#8221; [emphasis mine] Now, I&#8217;ve read this book on paper before, as well as listening to it aloud, but I&#8217;ve never noticed this word before. I attribute this oversight to the fact that prior to taking &#8220;History of the English Language&#8221; in undergrad, I wouldn&#8217;t have had a <em>frisson</em>** of linguistic glee at the word.</p> <p>You see, while I&#8217;d never noticed the word before, I was sure it was related to &#8216;ea-land&#8217;, the Old English word that meant stream-land. The fledgling science of linguistics incorrectly guessed this word was related to the Latin <em>isla</em>, and therefore we have the unphonetic standard spelling &#8216;island&#8217;. It&#8217;s the classic example of how goofily English spelling was standardized, and here I was running across another word sprung from that noble root. (Presumably &#8211; checking the <span class="caps">OED</span> shows that history is unclear as to the exact lineage of &#8216;eyot&#8217;/&#8216;ait&#8217;)</p> <p>Three pages later (after several more repetitions of &#8216;eyot&#8217;) I came across this passage:<br /> <blockquote>The next day the country on either side began to change rapidly. The banks began to rise and grow stony. Soon they were passing through a hilly rocky land, and on both shores there were steep slopes buried in deep brakes of thorn and sloe, tangled with brambles and creepers.</blockquote></p> <p>Now, quickly, and without recourse to references, what is &#8216;brake&#8217; in this context? How about &#8216;sloe&#8217;? I would suppose few of us know, and no more, I would guess, do or did many of Tolkien&#8217;s readers. But does it stop you enjoying the story or even make you lose the sense of the sentence? It did not for me. Part of this smooth reading experience is the way Tolkien has embedded these slightly archaic words in context, much as Patrick O&#8217;Brian <a href="" target="links">embeds unusual or specialized words</a> in text that allows the reader to gloss them. But I think another part is their very Anglo-Saxonness.</p> <p><b>brake</b>, the <span class="caps">OED</span> informs, is established in English by the 15th century, and analogous to the Middle Low German <em>brake</em>. It means &#8220;a clump of bushes, brushwood, or briers; a thicket.&#8221;</p> <p><b>sloe</b> is from the Old English <em>slá</em> and is the blackthorn, or its fruit.</p> <p>Now, we didn&#8217;t necessarily know that. But it didn&#8217;t confuse us to read it, and I think it enriched our experience. The confusion of plants making a wilderness of the riverbank is made more complex &#8211; more literally confusing &#8211; by these inclusions. What is more, they fall upon the ear as English, similar in sound to many words we use every day. They work beautifully read aloud, as does the book as a whole. They are venerable remnants of our own language, and give an air of primal familiarity to Middle Earth. And while that&#8217;s not among Gardner&#8217;s list of reasons to use words rooted in Anglo-Saxon, it&#8217;s a beautiful effect to create. And I&#8217;m sure, for a linguist like Tolkien, it wasn&#8217;t hard to summon the magic words.</p> <p><font size="1">*I&#8217;m rereading my <a href="" target="powells">Millennium Edition</a> copy, which separates <em>Lord of the Rings</em> into its six volumes, rather than the three books in which it was originally published. I like it.</p> <p>**There I go using Romance languages. Sorry, Gardner and friends. I will not stop. <em>Je refuse!</eM></font></p> New word: the love affair 2008-11-06T22:45:03+00:00 2008-11-06T22:50:52+00:00 <p>Truly, English is beautiful for its rich and varied scope, from the profane to the obscure, the lyrical to the particular.</p> <p>Today, exploring the online <a href="" target="link">Oxford English Dictionary</a> because, thanks to <a href="" target="links">Multnomah County Libraries</a>, I can, I came across this utter gem: liripoop.</p> <p>Let me say that again: <b>liripoop</b>. Better still, <em>I own one</em> and have been in discussions about what to call it. This sadly incomplete <a href="" target="links">entry</a> on <a href="" target="links">Wikipedia</a> should give you an idea (the <span class="caps">OED</span> lists liripipe and liripoop as the most prevalent spellings.) I wore one of these around my neck (and a mortarboard on my head) at my <a href="" target="links"><span class="caps">MFA</span> Commencement</a>. We were all unsure what to call it. People seemed to tell us it was a &#8216;hood&#8217; despite its evolution towards the vestigial. &#8220;Why is it that bizarre shape?&#8221; people asked. No one could say. But now, thanks to the <span class="caps">OED</span>, I know.</p> <p>And I also know that by being &#8220;furnished with a liripipe&#8221; I have become&#8230;<b>liripipionated</b>.</p> New word: the rereading! 2008-10-09T16:41:06+00:00 2008-10-09T16:41:17+00:00 <p>Another one from the Aubrey-Maturin files. Did I let this one slide by me the first three times I read that Bonden brought Maturin that coffee? It&#8217;s too obscure for Merriam-Webster, but as <a href="" target="links">we&#8217;ve established</a>, the <a href="" target="links">Wiktionary</a> loves Patrick O&#8217;Brian.</p> <center><a href="" target="links"><b>roborative:</b></a> &#8220;giving strength; invigorating.&#8221;</center> <p>I love you, Maturin, but I&#8217;m saving this word for next time I want to win a pompous-off.</p>