The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ten years on

It's coming up for exactly 10 years since I was first struck down with RSI. And it did hit me suddenly, almost as suddenly as the car accident in which I'd broken my shoulder 10 years before that. Looking back, there had been warning signs, but it was on a Wednesday afternoon in June 1999 that I suddenly realised I had the most incredible pain in my right hand and from that point on, my life changed completely.

It's very difficult to explain to somebody the pain of RSI, because it has effects through your whole upper body; hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, neck, head, back. But for me, the centre of the pain is in my right hand and, at its worst, it's completely debilitating. If you imagine the worst kind of cramp, say in your calf muscle, that has you hopping around, really not sure what to do with yourself, making “ah, ah, ah!” noises and pulling faces like a fouled footballer, then you start to get the idea. For most of the time, I can hardly use a pen, a pair of scissors or a pair of chopsticks.I can't hold a coffee cup, a wine glass or an umbrella comfortably for more than a few seconds.

Over the past decade, I've mostly adapted to my limitations. There are some things I've given up completely; writing letters by hand, painting and drawing, sewing, driving any distance or carrying more than the lightest of bags. In other areas, I've adapted, always putting my coffee cup or wine glass down between mouthfuls, doing hand-heavy tasks in small bursts and learning to be more ambidextrous to spread the load.When it comes to working and using a computer, the challenge has been greater. As a freelancer, I can try to control my workload, not taking on too much, working in short bursts and taking plenty of breaks, but in reality, there are always busy patches when I overdo it and everything flares up.I've tried to get my desk set up to cause minimum strain. Instead of the dreaded mouse, I use a graphics tablet with my left hand, a much more gentle action and a less fixed position. I even have voice recognition software which I can use for some things (such as dictating this blog post), but sadly not for most of my work.

As the 10th anniversary approaches though, I seem to have been struck once more. In recent weeks, after some particularly fiddly, click-heavy work, my left hand has been gradually giving out on me too. And in the last few days, that all-too-familiar spasming, cramping feeling has been overtaking my left hand after just a few minutes’ work.

Thus I sit at my desk mid-morning after another unsuccessful attempt to get started on some work, close to tears and mourning the loss of another hand and the loss of independence that comes with it. I've come to terms with asking other people to do little things for me, but the prospect of not being able to work is something I really don't want to have to face. I'm in the lucky position that my long-suffering boyfriend will happily support me if I need to take a break from work for a while to rest, but the future, once again, is an unknown quantity. I know I got over the crisis in ‘99, so I'm trying to be optimistic that I'll find a way round this setback too.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Piggies & puddies

One of the things I've always loved about the English language is its flexibility; its capacity to be moulded and adapted by the people who use it. Of course, it's used in an infinite variety of ways across the globe, but also at a more personal level, everyone has their own idiolect; their own unique range of vocabulary and style of speaking.

Last weekend, we spent a few days away with my parents and in the car on the way back, my boyfriend was commenting on the language we use together as a family; our familiolect, if you like. Every family has their own collection of in-jokes and phrases, picked up over the years. Some come from identifiable sources - my family grew up with Monty Python and various words and phrases (any reference to varieties of cheese or dead parrots, for example) trigger automatic responses. Others have become lost in the mists of time.

We also have our own vocabulary. Within my family, when we're together, we refer to feet as "pigs" or "piggies". It's a usage I'm sure is familiar to many people from the children's rhyme -"This little piggy went to market"- played, of course, using a child's toes and so, by extension, used to mean toes or feet. But we've also always referred to hands as "puds" or "puddies" (to rhyme with 'buddy') going back through my grandmother. For years, I'd presumed it was made up, until I finally came across it in the Oxford English Dictionary:

pud (noun)
a child's word for: the hand or the forefoot of an animal; a little hand or paw. Now

One thing's for sure though - I know exactly where my inability to speak without using my puddies comes from - like mother, like daughter ...

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