Posts tagged with "vocabulary" - 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> 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> These are a few of my favorite words, Part XV 2010-02-15T23:56:57+00:00 2010-02-15T23:57:43+00:00 <p>Edition Française.</p> <p>I often regret, as I go through my life, the absence in English of the word &#8220;bouleversé&#8221;. Often, &#8220;bouleversée&#8221;, since I want to say it about myself, and a female subject dictates another &#8216;e&#8217;. In an otherwise English sentence, I feel my mouth forming itself for French. &#8220;It was a simply incredible book,&#8221; I say. &#8220;I was&#8230;&#8221; and I feel the lack of that word, the fact that saying it will, in all likelihood, confuse rather than communicate. Then I remember that there is an analogue, and I finish my sentence, belatedly, &#8220;bowled over.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Bowled over&#8221; is what it means, knocked over by a ball, and I have gone through this cycle of reaching, regret and replacement a hundred times. Still I feel something lacking, despite the perfectly adequate phrase &#8220;bowled over.&#8221; And I think I know now what it is.</p> <p>It&#8217;s the sound. &#8220;Boule&#8221;, intense and self-contained, barreling through the vowel without deviation or dipthong, and then &#8220;versé&#8221;, &#8220;turning&#8221;, turning outward, the sound itself an opening, a release. &#8220;Verser&#8221; means to turn or flip, yes, but also to pour, and that word captures so perfectly the experience of being shaken, awakened, and changed. The projectile of the first syllable shattering your preconceptions like a glass pitcher, so you are poured out to find a new shape, shattered and made new. I love that word.</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> These are a few of my favorite words, Part XIV 2008-12-28T13:15:10+00:00 2008-12-28T13:16:12+00:00 <p>Invented word edition! Because I come from a cluttery and packratty folk, I find a lot of use for clutter words, such as the slightly fear-inducing <a href="" target="links">&#8216;kipple&#8217;</a> invented by P.K. Dick. But here&#8217;s another neologism of decades&#8217; standing, which has much currency in my family:</p> <center><b>mathom</b></center> <blockquote>&#8230;anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a <em>mathom</em>. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.<br /><em>Prologue, The Ring Sets Out, The Lord of the Rings</em></blockquote> <p>J.R.R. Tolkien and P.K. Dick have my number entirely. Mathoms and kipple, alive, alive-o.</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>