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Posts Tagged ‘language’

A bit of cross-pollination, this week.

I was intrigued by a blog post from the always-interesting candidkay, in which she detailed the selection for her word for the year: “wonder.”

Wonder—as in “sense of wonder” rather than “Hmm . . . I wonder . . .”—has long been a thing encouraged in my household. We love it. I mean, there are phenomena in this world that are just so . . . wonderful . . . that they make me glad to be alive.

I have some tried-and-true sources for “sensawunda.” Watching a cephalopod change the color and texture of its skin in the blink of an eye. Standing in the middle of a Gothic cathedral and looking up at tons of stone that hang above me, all lifted by human hands, all suspended by the power of physics. Seeing the spirals amid the seeds of a sunflower or embedded in a sectioned nautilus shell, and recognizing the mathematics (which I poorly understand) that predict each rank, each row, each curve.

Recently, though, I hadn’t experienced that sensawunda—life has been filled with too much of the pedestrian and mundane of late—and I had actually forgotten how lovely a few moments of wonderment can be.

And then, just as I was ruing that lack, I was struck by a thing I hadn’t thought before, a thing that made me go ooooh, that is so cool. (more…)

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Le crayon rougeI’ll update you on my cable-cutting process soon, but for this week, here’s a look into the things that keep me up at night. Literally. This is the type of shite that makes my brain whirl like a dervish when it wakes me up at 4AM.

There’s a language construct that has bothered me for a long time. It’s the “negative question.” It’s like the question in the title of this post or, as found in the large portion of my viewing and reading intake that includes British and “period” drama, it’s often tacked on to the end of a sentence, as in, “She is a handsome woman, wouldn’t you say?”

In general, I don’t have a problem with negative inquiries.

Unless, of course, I have to answer them. (more…)

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Stack of BooksThere are some things that I really dislike. No. I mean really dislike.

Take crop pants.

Crop pants are, perhaps, the single silliest and most unflattering article of clothing ever contrived for the female form (and, yes, I include the entire decade of the 1920s in this assessment). I’m not talking about Capri pants or pedal-pushers, both of which are fine in small doses; I’m talking about crop pants: those pants where some designer decided to cut the trouser legs off mid-calf, use less material, and charge more for it.

Ladies, crop pants make you look like hobbits. They make you look short, and make your feet look big. They truncate the lines of your form and exaggerate the size of your rear end. They are singularly unsatisfactory; you’d do better to roll up your pant legs like a sock-hopper. Seriously. If you own a pair of crop pants, burn them. You can thank me later.

As you can see, I hate crop pants. I shall always hate crop pants. If the world were to be destroyed and built again, giving us all a second chance, if it has crop pants in it I shall consider the entire enterprise a failure and not worth the effort.

Same goes for uptalk.

(more…)

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Kurt R.A. GiambastianiEvery once in a while, out of the blue, a common, everyday word will suddenly look…wrong.

This has happened all my reading/writing life. I actually remember the first time this happened. I was in 5th grade, and I was reading along and came across the word “dirt.” I stared at that word for a while; I knew what it was, and I knew what it meant, but I was sure it was misspelled. I even went to the dictionary and looked it up. “Dirt” had become, suddenly, foreign English.

It doesn’t happen frequently—perhaps three or four times a year—but it has always puzzled me. Today, it happened again, but with a new twist.

Today, I was writing an email, tutoring someone on SQL basics. In checking my facts, I came across a snippet of code.

SELECT * FROM <table> WHERE . . .

That word, SELECT, just looked wrong. Did it really end with “CT”? Does any other word end with “CT”? I typed it out myself, and it looked fine. Here’s the deal: It only looked wrong in Courier font, all caps.

Now why would my brain suddenly reject (Hey! another word ending in “CT”!)—Why would my brain suddenly elect to reject (I’m going to have fun with this, now) the word “SELECT” as suspect? (Okay…I’ll stop.) And why only in Courier? And why does it look fine, now?

Some form of super-limited aphasia? Perhaps a pathway neuron that hooked to my recognition of “SELECT” suddenly died, and it took me an hour or so to reroute back to that brain-byte.

The brain is a mystifying thing. It does things we don’t understand, sometimes seemingly without reason.

I’ll never know. I only hope it isn’t just me… That would be weird.

k

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Kurt R.A. GiambastianiI’ve been known to be…overenthusiastic…about proper grammar. However, I have been loosening the laces on my jackboots, of late, as my definition of “proper” English usage evolves. A recent opinion piece in the NY Times, however, has shifted my perspective even more.

The example in that piece that really spoke to me was the 19th century difference between “first two” and “two first,” when speaking of people in a queue. Today, we wouldn’t blink twice at anyone who used either one or the other to signify the two people at the front of the line. Back in Edith Wharton’s day, though, the “two first” people meant the two people at the front of a line, while the “first two” people meant the first couple in a line of couples.

What started this evolution of attitude? Without a doubt, it was Shakespeare. For years I struggled with the “rule” to never end a sentence with a preposition, and so my was peppered with convoluted sentence syntax where the “which” in the center got me out of a prepositional-ending jam. Necessarily, I sometimes came out with sentences almost as bad as the anecdotal Churchill line: “That, madam, is something up with which I shall not put!”

But if Shakespeare–my all-time favorite writer–if Shakespeare didn’t have a qualm about ending a clause with a preposition (“..the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to…”), who the hell am I to quibble? And while Edith Wharton–whose work I truly admire–did quibble over “first two” and “two first,” what about Austen, Thackeray, and a host of others I also adore who used language that today would be considered downright wrong?

Language evolves. We’ve been “verbing nouns” and changing the meaning of words ever since we learned to speak. Do you know the difference between a present and a gift? There is a difference, and I know what that difference is, but in this day of the “free gift” (a redundancy if ever there was one), should I ding someone if they use the wrong one?

I will hold tight to certain tenets of my Grammarian Faith–the simple truth of correct spelling and apostrophe use; my adherence to the Oxford comma; my belief that almost any sentence ending in “at” doesn’t need that word; and the simple, common-sense rule that if your writing is unclear or can be misconstrued, it’s improper–but I really need to chill when it comes to a lot of other cringe-worthy uses.

The language is changing around us. No stopping it.

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