The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It’s not all about the apostrophes…

I saw a tweet recently that really made me smile:

When I meet new people, it’s always a bit of a challenge to explain what I do, mostly because I don’t do a single job. Once people get the general idea though, I find it leads to all kinds of assumptions about what a languagey sort of person must be interested in.

“Correct” grammar
As someone who spends a lot of time researching and writing about grammar norms, yes, non-standard grammar does, inevitably, jump out at me. I do automatically spot misplaced apostrophes, there/their/they’re mix-ups and sentences missing a main verb, but they don’t necessarily have me up in arms. For me, it’s all down to context. If it’s in a Facebook post or a quickie email, I really don’t care. If someone has gone to the trouble (and expense) of having something professionally printed without getting it proofread (a menu, a leaflet, a business website), then yes, it makes me sigh and roll my eyes.

I admit that I love words. I find English vocabulary in all its wonderful variety fascinating. Am I bothered about the origins of a particular word or expression though? Not especially. Yes, understanding a bit about the roots of English can be useful, but for me, it’s functional rather than fascinating. I’m much more interested in how language is used now than where it came from. I have several unopened books on my shelves about the “stories behind words” bought as well-intentioned presents, but now collecting dust.

Trendy coinages
When I tell people I work in dictionaries, one of the common reactions is: “it must be all about finding new words”. Unsurprising perhaps, seeing as the only time dictionaries seem to be in the news is when they announce their “word of the year”: staycation or post-truth or sharenting. And yes, they’re fun, I enjoy a new coinage much as the next person, but they’re very much the fluffy, soundbite end of lexicography. As someone working in ELT, I’m much more involved in trying to explain the frequent, and yes even boring, everyday language that the average learner needs to master. Which, by the way, can be far more interesting and challenging.

The decline of English
At the same time as being excited by new coinages, people also expect me to be outraged by the apparent decline of the English language. I should be vehemently against verbing and appalled by the Americanization of English. I’m not. Language change happens, it always has (see etymology above). Of course, there are some changes that I personally embrace more than others, but asking whether I’m for or against language change seems a fairly nonsensical question to me. There isn’t some malign force out there forcing changes on us, it’s how we collectively choose to use our language that influences the direction of change.

I could go on (my spelling is rubbish, I’m not a literary type, I’ve never watched Countdown …), but I guess my real message is: I love language in my own ways.

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Seasonal working

For the past few months, my morning routine has been much the same:
  • Get up and have breakfast
  • Head upstairs to my office, switch on my computer, check my email and have a browse through social media
  • Get dressed (no, I don't work in my PJs, but I do enjoy the luxury of slow start!)
  • Then I head up the garden for 10 minutes before I make my second cup of tea and settle down at my desk to start on the day's writing.

I live right in the centre of the city, so I don't have a large garden, but I love my morning garden tour. I see how everything's looking, dispatch a few slugs and snails, and usually come back in with a handful of home-grown goodies ... most recently that's been raspberries and French beans. It helps to clear my sleepy head and gives me a few minutes of 'me time' before I face the demands of the day.

This morning though, it was absolutely heaving with rain and there was no way I was stepping out the back door. So I made my tea, switched on the lamp on my desk and tried to get my head back into an exercise practising emotion adjectives. Personally, I couldn't help feeling a bit sad (A1) at the passing of summer and a distinct sense of gloom (C2) at the prospect of the long autumn and winter to come.

Thankfully, this afternoon the rain has stopped and the sun's reappeared. I've just had a trip up the garden, hefted a dozen snails over the back wall and come back in with a handful of beans. And now I'm sitting with a cup of tea in the sun on the front doorstep before I fit in one more hour at my desk. Maybe it's not time to give up on summer just yet ...

The view from here ...

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