Last week I went with my friend’s daughter (H) to a talk and book signing arranged by our local independent book shop.
Now H has just completed her finals and was home for a few days before returning to university for a final week (or two?) of celebrations. Her degree is in English and Linguistics. And yes, I’m still not sure what linguistics are, but she does, and loves it, and is planning an MA in the subject (she loves it that much!)
Before going to this book signing I did know that the book being promoted was The Disappearing Dictionary: a treasury of lost English dialect words. I have a general interest in language and words, their usage, derivations and meaning, so I was sure I’d be entertained by the book and (hopefully!) its author. I was out for an evening of light entertainment, a wander through lost words of the English language, and maybe a wee glass of wine to accompany it all…
What I didn’t know was that the author, David Crystal, is actually a professor of and eminent authority on linguistics. H was coming to hear her hero: she has all his books and has studied them in detail for projects and dissertations. Waiting for the event to begin, she was on the edge of her seat.
“That’s him!” she whispered as he walked to the front to be introduced. Her eyes lit up with excitement. It was as if she was meeting God.
In fairness, with his white hair and bushy beard, he did look like God (if you swap shirt-sleeves for a long, flowing robe).
He didn’t disappoint. Entertaining and erudite, clearly a man of vast knowledge and a passion for the English language, he spoke for a generous hour, introducing me to some ‘new’ words – words that have dropped out of local dialect but (and here starts a campaign!) really should be reintroduced. Take crumpsy, for example, meaning ill-tempered or cross. I have quite a few days of being crumpsy… I hope its not smittling (contagious or infectious): I don’t want to argle (argue) with anyone, nor be known as an argler-bargler.
See how easy it is?
David’s obvious delight in meeting H, on hearing of her degree course and future aspirations, was magnificent: she is, of course, his hope for the future of the subject he has studied for many years. With any luck, this won’t be the end, and I’ll be going to H’s book-signings in years to come!
As an aside, I note that next week is Independent Bookshop Week around the country. For me, it is a remarkable privilege to live so near to a fantastic independent bookshop: Simply Books. They are often organising events like this. Book shops are wonderful: do go and support them! We’ll be sorry if they disappear from our high streets.
Grammar is a marvellous tool. It can be used to add expression, meaning and drama to a piece of writing. It is the structure around which all the beauty is composed – the frame in which the final piece of art is hung.
Lynne Truss has made her name from it, showing the power of punctuation in “Eats, shoots and leaves”. There is a big difference between the panda that eats shoots and leaves and the one who eats, shoots and leaves. And the missing comma is vital in the sentence:
I like cooking my family and my pets.
The so-called Grocer’s Apostrophe is a thing of legend…
No-one can claim that the placement of apostrophes is simple, but when it is done correctly the writing – and thus the reading – flows easily. Watching my daughter doing a piece of homework that involved placing apostrophes in the right place in a sentence brought back all those fears of working out who owns what – a lady, or the ladies? Its or It’s? Childrens or Children’s?
But, when considered as ownership, it’s obvious, isn’t it? There isn’t such a word as childrens… (I know: the computer keeps autocorrecting this post!): the plural of child is children, and therefore the apostrophe must go after the n.
Possession is the basis of your vs you’re as well, though in reverse with respect to the apostrophe. Your shows the possession (is that your coat?) whereas you’re is a contraction of you are. Similarly they’re contracts they are, but their shows possession (have you seen their outfits!) and there indicates a place. Sometimes we simply need to slow down in order to get it right: often I read things in my head as if the apostrophe wasn’t there just to see if it still makes sense.
Inaccurate grammar and punctuation really irritates me when reading a book – particularly if it is in all other respects a good book! I want my enjoyment to flow unceasingly, not to be brought to an abrupt halt by an erroneous comma or a peculiar apostrophe.
My general thoughts about grammar were extended this week when I told my daughter off for saying she had brung her PE kit home the day before.
“No,” I said, “you brought it home.”
She grumpily agreed to that, then her friend pointed out that their English teacher says ‘brung’. Seriously. My jaw hit the floor and I declared he should be sacked. (Probably a slightly over-the-top response to his failings, I know!)
And then, this made me smile … for I like the sentiment, even if the apostrophe use makes my toes curl.
Regular readers of this blog will know I have a love of words – their sound, their derivation, their use to finesse description. Words change over time: new ones arrive (take “selfie” or “twerking”, for example) and many drop out of fashion. We don’t now talk in the style of Shakespeare, or Chaucer, or even the Bronte sisters, but from them has emerged the great depth of our English language.
One thing that often engenders the ire of English language purists is turning nouns into verbs. An example might be google (a 1 followed by 100 zeros) which, due to the internet search engine, is often used as a verb: “I’ll just google it!” Yet increased usage allows it to become common, and thus to be a norm – a new verb that is an essential part of our modern day language.
Writers have always invented words. It is part of their make-up: to experiment, to push writing to its limits, to allow language to evolve into something better, more mysterious, more apt. PG Wodehouse is reputed to have invented the word “couth” – the opposite of uncouth. On a similar basis I often find myself wanting to be “ert” or, when it comes to work, “ept”.
So it was with great joy that I thought I’d invented a word to go into Book 2 (working title!). Snailed. It is what the car did: snailed almost to a stop. A gradual, almost slimy, slowing down such that we were still moving but almost imperceptibly.
Ah: pride so often comes before a fall. Joy at the thought I’d invented a word … until I discovered my trusty dictionary has it as an afterthought, right at the end of a large paragraph about the noun. Yes, it would have angered those who don’t want to turn nouns into verbs, but that pales into insignificance behind my disappointment at not having invented a new word.
Perhaps I could just make it trendy? Anyone ready for a high usage of the verb to snail?!