The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, November 26, 2010

The joys of freelancing #5 ... pronking!

pronk verb (of a springbok or other antelope) leap in the air with an arched back and stiff legs, typically as a form of display or when threatened

This morning I was telling a fellow freelancer how much I enjoy the variety of work I can get involved in working for myself. After a rather hectic few months over the summer working on quite a challenging ELT project, I'm now ticking along with some more mundane lexicography work. Most of the job is fairly routine stuff, scanning through entries, checking for various picky little details that need changing, but rather than being 'boring', I'm finding it oddly calming. It's nice to have some straightforward, regular work with clear parameters, set hours and a simple brief for a change.

And because it's a native-speaker dictionary, there's the added bonus of coming across odd words that I've never heard before, one example the other day being 'pronk'! It made me laugh out loud, so I thought it was worth sharing ... now the challenge is to try and slip it into conversation!

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

A trip to the Palace!

On Tuesday, I got to visit Buckingham Palace to collect the ESU President's award from the Duke of Edinburgh for the Global eworkbook, along with other members of the Global team. There was quite a group of us because the Global students' book also won the ESU book award! Everyone keeps asking me what it was like and it's a bit difficult to put into words. There was definitely a kind of childish excitement amongst everyone as we waited outside and then made our way across the forecourt and into the palace. I'm no great monarchist, and to be honest, the bit of the palace we got to see wasn't especially any grander than your average National Trust country house, but there's undeniably something exciting about getting to go somewhere with so much historical significance. Lindsay articulated it well in the taxi later when he said that as a Canadian, the shape of his country was probably decided in that very building! He also pointed out that Prince Philip has probably met anyone who's been anyone in the twentieth century, from Gandhi to Churchill, the Beetles to Obama ... quite a thought.

Sadly, we couldn't take cameras inside the palace, so I've only got a few pictures outside (in the wind and rain!) and at the ESU reception afterwards. There was an official photographer snapping away, so if I can find out what happened to those pictures later, I'll add them or link to them.

It was also a good chance to meet up with lots of colleagues and talk 'shop'. As a freelancer working away at my desk, although I really enjoy what I do and I am proud of a lot of the stuff I produce, I don't spend as much time talking about it and getting caught up in the whole thing as the in-house folk. I tend to see myself as a jobbing writer who just gets on with whatever the current project is. At these sort of events, I find all the talk of markets and trends, the future of publishing and digital content rather goes over my head! Which perhaps goes to show why it is so important to get out and keep in touch.

All round, it was a fun day, a great excuse to dress up and very nice to hear so much positive feedback on Global from so many different quarters. Thanks to everyone for a great day!

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Can you say ...?

I generally tend to keep out off the whole language change: good or bad debate. Over the years, I've got a bit bored of explaining to people the whole concept of being a descriptive rather than a prescriptive linguist. So I tend to avoid questions about "correct" usage and discussions about falling standards. And probably like most lexicographers, I feel a little bit irked that most people think we spend our whole time looking for new words, because what else would there be to do? This week though, a couple of language change issues have caught my attention.

Facebook grammar: Anyone who uses Facebook will have come across the issue of whether to write their status updates in the first or third person. Because your name comes up at the beginning of the line, you tend to carry on the sentence, which means using a third person verb, so: Julie Moore is looking forward to the weekend. But then because it's clearly you, the first person, writing, it would then feel odd to start using third person pronouns, so you tend to switch and end up with this funny mixture: Julie Moore is looking forward to seeing my parents at the weekend. Different people approach the issue in different ways, some going for the funny grammatical mix, others just ignoring the name at the beginning and starting a new sentence. Could be a PhD research topic in there - I'm sure someone, somewhere is already looking into it!

Facebook threw a spanner in the works this week though when they slightly changed the way the text appears on screen, so that now (on your home page at least, but not when you look at your profile!) your name now appears at the top, more like a heading, and your status update starts on a new line. To me this now lends itself to the whole sentence approach and so more conventional grammar. I wasn't sure what I thought about the change and when I posted a comment to that effect, wasn't entirely surprised to get a response from a friend saying they are actually quite liked the third/first person mix! We'll have to see how it develops, especially as 'comments' (replies to status updates) are still in the old format. "New" grammar for a new medium?

Insurgence: The other new usage also came to light via a friend's Facebook post - thanks to Michelle for this one. She pointed out that she'd come across several examples recently in the media of the word insurgence being used to talk about a sudden increase in something. So one from the Tate Gallery Facebook page referred to "the insurgence of digital photography" and another on the radio, "an insurgence of autumn winds". My first reaction was that they can't possibly be right because an insurgence is a revolt or rebellion. But then when I thought about it a bit more, we do talk about a resurgence of something, to refer to something increasing again after a period of quiet or unpopularity. I guess if you take off the re-, you could talk about a surge or an upsurge in something, but somehow they don't fit quite as well. I did a few corpus searches and indeed, this new usage does seem to be out there, I came across:

we saw a huge insurgence of "cool" gamers
There has been an insurgence of books which answer
What is going on with this sudden insurgence of Norwegian music ?
as a possible solution to the insurgence of drug-resistant bacteria

The last of these comes from an academic journal! So perhaps, after all, an insurgence of something does make sense? Is it filling a gap? I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

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Monday, November 01, 2010

Daylight savings

As someone who struggles through the short, dark days of winter, I always dread the clocks going back and the prospect of it getting dark before I've even finished my working day. So this year, I'm trying something different ... I'm staying on BST for a bit longer. Yes, I did change my clocks yesterday (that would be too confusing), but I'm shifting my day so that I get up an hour earlier, start work early, have an early lunch and hopefully, finish at my desk before it gets dark. I've never been particularly good at getting up in the morning and one of the key benefits of being freelance is being able to get up when I want, so I was a bit unsure at the prospect of a seven o'clock start, but it wasn't too bad this morning and so far, the new routine's going great. In fact, I was so productive this morning, I'd finished work for the day before four o'clock and that was with a break mid-afternoon to go out and do some chores and admire the autumn colours (see below). It's still bright and sunny outside, and now I've got a couple of hours to myself before my boyfriend gets home and I start my evening proper - feels like a nice luxury.

Okay, it was a particularly beautiful, sunny day today, so perhaps not entirely representative of what's to come, but it's an encouraging start. I know the strategy's only going to work for a while, because at some point, I'm going to find myself getting up in the dark, which is probably even grimmer than having to switch the light on mid-afternoon. So I suppose at that point, I'll claim back some extra time under the duvet and my start time will creep later and later, but even if I can stave off that winter feeling for a little longer, I'll be happy.

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