Way back in the day, when things were simpler and people were actually expected to know how to do things like spell and construct sentences correctly, my grade 7 homeroom teacher always supplemented our weekly prescribed, curriculum-based, spelling test with an extra-special challenge.
As a result, I learned the spelling- and the meanings- of a lot of very interesting words.
Tintinnabulation was one. How wonderful is it that there is a single word to describe the ringing of (church) bells through the countryside? It always reminds me of Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, by William Wordsworth- partly because my first exposure to the poem came around the same time I learned the new word and partly because the bucolic setting of the poem lends itself to hearing bells in the distance, but mainly because of the similar sound of tintinnabulation and Tintern.
I love language(s). I love words. I love playing with them and respectfully befriending them as befits their vast importance in our human interaction. Words facilitate communication. While there are, certainly, other methods of communication, the effective use of language is undeniably one of the forces with which we need reckon as we attempt to make sense of this human existence and try to get along.
As has been the case for most of my adult life, part of my current role involves working with other people and helping to hone their written communication skills. Being talented, driven professionals, none of my colleagues are completely hopeless with when it comes to the clear and effective use of language, but the reality is that we are surrounded by opportunities to misuse our well-learned writing skills once we move outside of the halls of academia.
It’s partly peer pressure. I see sooooo many typos/inconsistencies/grammatical errors in allegedly edited publications/news groups these days. Status updates and tweets and PMs are rarely given the once-over, let alone the twice/thrice-over that I tend to use when putting things out into the ether. The people that we see on tv speak in colloquialisms that seem barely recognizable as mother-tongue English.
It’s also laziness. We know better, most of the time. I’m positive that people really know the difference between to/too and there/they’re/their- but (maddeningly) don’t get the importance of actually writing the correct word.
I realize that, here in my WPWorld with my WPPeeps, I frequently devolve and use extremely vernacular or truncated language, while employing my own little stylistic idiosyncrasies that very much reflect my voice (at least the one in my head that shouts the loudest…).
I’m allowed. colemining is a blog. Its purpose isn’t about business or professional concerns. I’m chatting with my friends- putting some of my ideas out there and responding to the ideas of others that strike me as profound, interesting or entertaining.
I’m also of the mind that once you reallyreally know the fundamentals of a language you then, and only then, get to play around with them. And I’m pretty confident in my grasp of the fundamentals of language (more than one, truth be told). So I’m okay with writing choppy, seemingly-incomplete sentences, hereabouts. Or beginning sentences with ‘so’. Or ‘or’.
That’s the language in which Cole chooses to write. If it isn’t everyone’s cup o’ java, it’s all good.
Word-crafting is an art– and when it’s employed by those with a real talent for turns of phrase and clever construction it is truly beautiful. We find such wordsmiths in many realms- of music, literature, poetry, philosophy… even (dare I say it?) in the political world. Expressive, connotative language describes and illustrates our humanity. Regardless of the specific medium- or subject matter- it connects us by helping us to communicate our stories- individual and shared.
Before I accepted my current role, I languished a little bit in the wasteland between the world of academic writing and that of business correspondence. ‘Writing’ ‘form letters’ (a primary responsibility of my previous job), offered few opportunities for either creative flare or nuanced construction. By their very definition they were formulaic.
That temporary residence in said void led to a whole lot of playing with words and encouraging their music in my spare time- something that has been wonderful for my creative output (work on the novel(s) and such), but it also made me a little lazy, to be honest.
As I get back into the scheme of things, I’m finding that editing the words of others is a little less instinctive than it once was. It’s taking me longer to restructure and rearrange than was the case, once upon a time.
Some things are straightforward- eradicating ‘as per’ from all writing that crosses my desk requires no effort at all (I realize that the construction is used widely, but it is both jargonistic and freakin’ redundant – the English/Latin hybrid makes me cray-cray. It is pretentious and generally lacks clarity- even assuming it is used correctly. My SO suggests that I am tilting at (yet another) windmill with this one, but I am determined that nothing that comes through my hands will contain that vitiated vernacularity. We hates it, my precious.), and ‘utilize’ becomes ‘use’ with barely a second thought.
Switching passive voices to active ones? That involves a little more time and thought and trial and error. But, as I attempt to emphasize the effectiveness of using the best possible words to convey meaning, I’m discovering discussions about language use everywhere.
That synchronicity thing again.
There was a news story on the CBC this morning, as I got ready to leave the house, which discussed findings that suggest that ‘expert’ texters are better spellers than those who are less dexterous with the one-handed typing. It makes sense, linguistically, in a way. Breaking down words into shorter forms helps with the understanding of the constituent parts of the whole.
While searching for reading selections for my first cottage weekend of the summer (T-minus 5 days, and counting!), I kept running into discussions about the perceived literary ‘value’ of certain bestsellers. Not being much of a proponent of literary criticism- and frequently not a fan of those books that make the critics roll over and purr- I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to the foofaraw.
I like what I like- and if a novel doesn’t hit on all the aspects required to grant it legitimacy as part of the Western Canon? Oh well. If an author engages my imagination and creates characters that resonate and stay with me, then I’m happy to have spent the money to support their efforts.
Writing is hard. Doing it well is underrated. Effective communication always requires clarity and the ability to know and accurately read an audience. Sometimes that involves using colloquial or informal language. In other circumstances messages need demonstrate a requisite level of professionalism and polish that is often lacking.
IMHO that whole clarity-thing requires the correct use of grammar. Am I a Grammar Nazi? Perhaps. But it is a skill that we seem to be losing- much to my distress. We would need to spend a whole lot less time looking for meaning in the words of others if their messages were well-constructed and to the point- without layers of extraneous rhetoric and misused language.
When we were told to learn the word antidisestablishmentarianism for one of our weekly tests, our teacher offered a brief definition and the explanation that it is one of the longest words in the English language. I thought it was pretty cool. It was long and lyrical and rolled off the tongue not unlike that most wonderful literary creation supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
The meaning of the word didn’t register much, at the time. It wasn’t really a concept that hit all that high on my 13-year old list of things I should be thinking about retaining. But I did. And it is a word that has surfaced more than a few times over the course of the studies that have been the focus of most of my adult life.
As a movement, antidisestablishmentarianism opposed proposals that sought to remove the Church of England from its status as the state church of England, Ireland and Wales. It was tied into the role of the monarchy as head of the Church and concepts of the absolute separation of Church and State. It’s still a concept that comes up- in the British context- now and again.
Who knew- back in the dark ages when I learned the word- that I would grow up to be a card-carrying disestablishmentarian?
Knowledge isn’t something to be squandered- and those things we learned in our schooldays (halcyon or otherwise) aren’t transitory. Despite suggestions to the contrary, the need to learn the fundamentals of correct spelling, grammar and vocabulary is not something that has gone the way of the dinosaurs in a world of spelling/grammar check and lowest common denominator vernacular.
Even when we take the time to listen to one another (not something that happens nearly as much as it should) it can be extremely frustrating trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in the convoluted/misused language that has become the norm.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my beloved Monkees. Wailing their way through Boyce and Hart’s Words:
‘Now, I’m standing here.
Strange, strange voices in my ears, I feel the tears
But all I can hear are those
Words that never were true.
Spoken to help nobody but you.
Words with lies inside,
But small enough to hide
‘Til your playin’ was through.’
Clarity. Using our words with integrity without sacrificing accuracy, style and beauty. It can be done. It SHOULD be done.
Just a few thoughts for our newly elected majority government here in Ontario. And all the rest of us.