Posts tagged with "language" - Faerye Net 2011-09-22T16:31:12+00:00 Felicity Shoulders These are a few of my favorite words, Part XVIII 2011-09-22T16:31:12+00:00 2011-09-22T16:32:46+00:00 <p>Deuxième Edition Française!</p> <p>In rewatching <em>Am&eacute;lie</em> recently, one of my two favorite films of all time, I was struck afresh by the word &#8216;accabler&#8217;. It&#8217;s one, like our old friend <a href="" target="links">bouleverser</a>, that I reach for in English conversation and whose lack stymies me utterly.</p> <p>It means &#8216;weighed down&#8217; or &#8216;borne down&#8217;, but it&#8217;s often used figuratively: in <em>Am&eacute;lie</em>, the heroine imagines Paris &#8220;accablé de chagrin&#8221; (crushed by woe) at her funeral. The same Greek root, taken as spoils of war by the Romans, gives rise to the French word &#8216;câble&#8217; (for once, exactly what you think it is, English speaker). I always imagine the burdens not just weighing someone down, but as impossible to escape &#8212; connected to them with chains, like the tail of <a href="" target="links">Marley&#8217;s ghost</a>. The closest I&#8217;ve come in English is &#8216;encumbered&#8217;. Not just crushed but hampered and bound. How many things are figuratively fixed to us in just such a way!</p> On beauty and bridges 2011-08-11T09:35:03+00:00 2011-08-11T09:35:23+00:00 <center><a href="" title="Marquam Bridge (1966) by poetas, on Flickr"><img src="" width="500" height="333" border="0" alt="Marquam Bridge (1966)"></a><br /> <em>Marquam Bridge, photograph by Dave Feucht</a></em></center> <p>When I was young, I remember reading some opinion piece or quote in the <em>Oregonian</em> about the <a href="" target="links">Marquam Bridge</a>: how ugly it was, what an eyesore, a concrete monstrosity. I turned to my mom and asked which bridge that was. She patiently managed to explain it to me, despite the utter ignorance of which freeway was which that I cultivated in those pre-driving days.</p> <p>She had extra difficulty in explaining because I simply didn&#8217;t believe it was ugly. Yes, it&#8217;s notorious for ugliness, I now know. Just in choosing a photo of it on Flickr to illustrate this post I have come across several comments on that score. But I didn&#8217;t agree, and I still don&#8217;t.</p> <p>Here&#8217;s what the Marquam is to me: once you merge onto the top deck, there&#8217;s a curve and a bank and all at once the horizon opens up around you. The city&#8217;s on your left with a progression of pretty bridges, but on a good day you don&#8217;t care at all because on your right is Mount Hood, and ahead is Mount St. Helens, your friendly local volcanoes fresh in white or burned out in grays and blacks on a blue canvas. On a clear day, it takes your breath away. That is a beautiful experience of a bridge.</p> <p>I thought of that admittedly odd perspective recently when I was listening to <em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9781596914278'>Medicus</a></em>, a historical mystery set in Roman Britain. A British viewpoint character is being asked her name in Latin &#8212; <em>quid nomen tibi est?</em> &#8212; and thinks about how ugly Latin is. Again, I was shocked. Latin, ugly?</p> <p>Well, yes, I suppose it might be. I have only one year&#8217;s formal study of Latin, in addition to some childhood lessons from my Latin teacher grandma and years of singing liturgical Latin. I understand from Latin 101/102 that the way we pronounced Latin in choir was grossly unlikely to be how Romans pronounced it. The hopefully accurate rendering robs it of some of its dignity: <em>kikero</em>, not <em>sisero</em>; <em>weni, widi, wiki.</em> It&#8217;s full of hard noises, abrupt sounds. I suppose I can understand that to that imaginary Briton, it might be ugly. Unlike some of its Romance offspring, you can&#8217;t imagine it being called &#8216;flowing&#8217; and &#8216;musical&#8217;.</p> <p>But to me, even with my imperfect understanding, its a beautiful language. It communicates so effectively, so efficiently: the endings tell you precisely what the word is doing in the sentence, so that you can move the words about for aesthetic or rhetorical effect and lose no meaning. It has a set of assumptions that clip out unnecessary words. It allows for clarity and nuance. It&#8217;s a beautiful machine of a language, even all these years later. It is elegant. It is awesome.</p> <p>Or, you know, it&#8217;s just a concrete double-decker that gets you from one place to another.</p> <p>I suppose I think beauty isn&#8217;t in the eye of the beholder &#8212; it&#8217;s in where she stands.</p> "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 XVII 2011-03-01T11:43:09+00:00 2011-09-22T16:19:25+00:00 <p>In the course of <a href="" target="links">bearding the beast of biographical blurb</a> yesterday, I found myself using the verb &#8220;to noodle&#8221;. I used it to describe the way I wrote before I buckled down and got serious. I love this word. To me, noodling is joyous, experimental, and yet also careless. It lacks vigor, but its aimlessness gives it a chance for serendipity, for discovery. The word, with its associations of limp pasta and long strings of wiggly spaghetti, is perfect. But I wondered &#8212; was this a word I could expect everyone to know? As I&#8217;ve previously mentioned, the <a href="" target="links">family dialect of the Shoulders</a> is not always comprehensible to the bystander, and I could even trace the lineage of my fondness of &#8220;to noodle&#8221; to my dad, that inveterate word-bender. I consulted the <em><a href="" target="links"><span class="caps">OED</span></a></em>.</p> <p>The verb &#8220;noodle&#8221;, it transpires, has any number of meanings, including the English regional &#8220;To fool around, to waste time&#8221; and the Australian &#8220;To search (an opal dump or ‘mullock’) for opals&#8221;. In the Southern US, it can refer to a low-tech method of catching turtles and fish. Finally, however, the fifth entry yielded what I sought:</p> <blockquote><strong>noodle, <em>v.5</em></strong>: <strong>1.</strong> <em>trans.</em> and <em>intr.</em> Chiefly <em>Jazz</em>. To play or sing (a piece of music) in a tentative, playful, or improvisatory way; (also) to play an elaborate or decorative series of notes. Also <em>fig.</em><br /> <br /> <strong>2.</strong> <em>U.S. colloq.</em><br /> <strong>a.</strong> <em>intr.</em> To think, esp. to reflect or muse in an unproductive or undirected way; to act light-heartedly (also with <em>about, around</em>); (<em>also</em>) to experiment in an informal, tentative manner.<br /> <strong>b.</strong> <em>trans. <strong>to noodle out</strong></em>: to figure out, work out; to devise. <em><strong>to noodle up</strong></em>: to think up (<em>rare</em>).<br /> <strong>c.</strong> <em>trans.</em> To mull over; to think about, ponder. Also with <em>around</em>.</blockquote> <p>How fabulous that this meaning seems to arise from the musical usage! One of the reasons I love the <em><span class="caps">OED</span></em> is that it includes such a wealth of etymology and reference. This is the stuff a word carries around with it. It carries its own history and <span class="caps">DNA</span>, which may register on a reader&#8217;s brain along with the individual connections and memories that that reader carries in his own personal lexicon.</p> <p>How lovely it is to noodle, to be limp and squiggly as cooked spaghetti, adventurous and light-hearted as a jazz clarinetist, free to wander using only (if you&#8217;ll forgive me) the power of your <a href="" target="links">noodle</a>!</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> I've been Calvin's-Dadded! 2010-07-20T11:51:11+00:00 2010-07-20T11:52:17+00:00 <p>The other morning, I started to type out a tweet. It would eventually be <a href="" target="links">this tweet</a>, declaring my love for my iPhone 4, no matter its overhyped failings. But when I typed it, I typed &#8220;I&#8217;m glad Apple isn&#8217;t responding to this <strong>foofraff</strong> with a recall&#8230;&#8221; Then I stared at the word &#8216;foofraff&#8217;, which even as I type it now I hear in my father&#8217;s voice, in tones of exasperation. To me, it means &#8220;mess&#8221;. Used in a phrase: &#8220;all this foofraff!&#8221; But I wasn&#8217;t really sure, so I searched. No hits on <a href="" target="links">Yahoo! Search</a> for foofraff. None. On Google, one&#8230;in Polish. It seems not to mean anything in Polish either.</p> <p>I called my dad. &#8220;Dad, I have a very unimportant question for you.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Yes?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;What does &#8216;foofraff&#8217; mean?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Nothing, as far as I know. It&#8217;s one of those coined words with no particular meaning.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;And who coined this word?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Oh, I don&#8217;t know.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;It wasn&#8217;t by any chance&#8230;<em>you</em>?&#8221;</p> <p>My father claims innocence, but how do you explain this nonsense word only he, I, and some person in Poland use? It isn&#8217;t the only one. The internet uses &#8220;<strong>smoorg</strong>&#8221; but I&#8217;m not sure it uses it in our familial sense of &#8220;mix together&#8221; (Dad says this is &#8220;<strong>smoog</strong>&#8221; and comes from the divine <em><a href="" target="links">Pogo</a></em>). I constantly have to define &#8220;<strong>feh</strong>&#8221; for <a href="" target="links">Ryan</a> (it&#8217;s short for &#8220;feculence&#8221;, obviously!) My dad makes up nicknames for everything from restaurants to electronics stores, and I&#8217;ve no doubt he&#8217;s gotten creative with slang and nonsense, too.</p> <p>I also discovered during my brief flirtation with <a href="" target="links">NaNoWriMo</a> five years ago that a whole phylum of my father&#8217;s vocabulary came from an unexpected source. I was trying to shrug off my perfectionism by writing pulp. Of course, I started trying to write perfect pulp, and I researched my vocabulary accordingly. My favorite resource was <a href=""><em>Twists, Slug and Roscoes</em></a>, which is where I found favored parental word <strong>glom</strong> and rarer birds like <strong>spondulix</strong>, as well as more common idioms like <strong>cheese it, dingus, hinky</strong>, and <strong>noodle</strong> (in the sense of &#8220;use your&#8221;). I use these words quite freely, and never realized I might sound like a &#8220;wise dame&#8221;.</p> <p>Now sure, you may think that my dad just enjoyed a few issues of <em><a href="" target="links">Ellery Queen&#8217;s</a></em> in his formative years alongside his <a href="" target="links"><em>Amazing Stories</em></a>. But perhaps this whole thing has been a linguistic experiment to set his children up with totally outlandish vocabularies. (Or make them play with language until they are compelled to become writers.) Sure, there are only a few examples here, but that&#8217;s the whole point: <em>I won&#8217;t know how weird the words are until I use them in public.</em></p> <p>Unlike <a href="" target="links">Calvin&#8217;s Dad</a>, my dad gave me full and, as far as science can be definitive, accurate particulars on why the sky is blue, when dinosaurs roamed, and why old photos are black and white. But his systematic campaign of linguistic misinformation is only now beginning to emerge!</p>