Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why I love to Blog even though I hate the word..

Blogging is such a great way to celebrate language, even though the word blog is hideously unmusical, but never mind.

It gives me the chance to talk with intelligent readers about the beauty of language, the precision instrument we use to convey the most subtle and nuanced of meanings. This is the flip side of my loud diatribes against people who won't talk proper like as how they should. The reason I get so excited about lousy grammar and spelling is that it's taking a wonderful fine tool, like a surgical instrument, and using it to chop down a tree. No good can come of this.

I know blogging gives us the chance to see pictures, too, and I bow to the people who just love the pix, this means you Minimiss! and others interested in seeing the vegetation on the other side of the planet in the opposite season.

But speaking and writing is such a miracle that it deserves a bit of a paean on its own.

I was lucky, or possibly unlucky, enough to study a number of languages, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, German and Profane. The last is very useful in the course of creating fine knitted goods, friends for the use of. But the others are the most powerful searchlight trained on the words we use.

Did you know that in classical Greek, curly hair, like on Greek statues, is called hyacinth hair? don't have a Greek keyboard, so the nearest I can get is huiacanthos.
And then look at the hyacinth flower, and you will see how it resembles a curly head.

Or consider that Easter, the opening of the year, is from the word for opening?

Or how appalling comes from the same root as pallor, meaning so shocking it makes you go white just seeing it.

Or how proud means either overweening, trying to stand out, or, if you describe flesh, proud flesh is standing up from its context, possibly because it's injured.

Or how there's a connection between the forelle pear, all speckled like a trout, and the trout lily, spectacular wild flower, with fat leaves speckled like a trout, I refuse to call it dog violet or whatever that other rotten name is, and the German word for trout, forelle, which most of us know via Schubert even if we don't know German, from the Trout Quintet. And if you don't know that music but have watched Waiting for God, you do know it -- it's the intro music. Particularly witty choice in that case, since the main character, Diana, is a bit of an old trout.

Or getting away from derivation (I drove HS mad in his childhood by insisting on telling him the Greek derivation of many English words, to the point where he would say, yes, yes, I know Mom, it's from two Greek words) to the actual pronunciation, meaning the stresses on words.

This is huge to me, since it is a repository of meaning that is being lost unless you, dear blogistas, join with me to preserve it. Even on radio, the ultimate sound avenue, I hear it quietly vanishing.

What I'm talking about is the way you change the meaning of the word, the part of speech, that is, by changing the emphasis. Progress, emphasis on first syllable, is a noun, progress, emphasis on second syllable, is a verb. Frequent, same same. Process and process, the one that means taking part in a procession.

There are so many examples of how with a little leaning on the right part of the word, you render the meaning perfectly, like setting a stitch in just the right place to make it significant, or putting that tiny brush stroke that makes the whole work. Or that tiny white stroke in a Degas monotype that holds up the entire architecture of the piece.

It matters, dear friends.


  1. I love your blog with or without pictures Liz.

    I am totally with you on this one. I don't profess to know it all when it comes to grammar and punctuation but try my best to get the commas and apostrophes in the right place. As for spelling and pronunciation, I cringe every day at work hearing people call pictures pitchers. I fear texting is causing the death of the written word and I cannot understand how someone can send an e-mail with numerous spelling mistakes when all they need to do is use Spellcheck - or heaven forbid proof-read. We are often left guessing at work, as to what someone actually means when they send us an e-mail totally devoid of any punctuation. The hardest part seems to be getting them to pick up the phone!!

    You may have your soap-box back now 8-)


  2. In general I agree with you Liz..but your academic searchlight frightens me. It was bad enough when I read "eats shoots and leaves" which left me with a phobia about colons and semicolons. Prior to that I never gave it a thought, just did wot came from 'abit... and now I have the study Greek. OMG!!
    You probably raise your hands in horror at my dots......but I think it helps the pace .......


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