Retrospective.

2011: What a long, strange trip it’s been.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for symbolic milestones. Rather than put you through the torture of reviewing my year, I’ll share some of the best things I read on Ye Olde Intarwebs this year. A few may be repeats and others are recent finds. I hope you enjoy!

Language

The year started with some epic icicles on the house.

  • Steven Pinker is one of my favorite linguists. I’d like to be him when I grow up. He’s versatile and insightful, of course, but he also has a wonderful way of presenting complex ideas about linguistics in a way that people can understand. I am nowhere near his level of knowledge, but maybe, in a tiny small way, I can try to do the same for my readers. To see how fun linguistics can be, watch the illustrator as Pinker talks about “Language as a Window into Human Nature“.
  • Stanford Humanities professor, Russell Berman, discusses the importance of learning a second language.
  • I tell my students that spelling is important, even if they think it’s meaningless. Bad spelling can get you bad grades, can lose you money or a job, can make you look bad in front of someone you like, and can even get you arrested!
  • Here’s welcome news for those who believe animals are capable of understanding or using human language: even monkeys can recognize bad grammar!
  • Before I started blogging in earnest, I spent months finding and reading blogs about language. One of my favorites is Johnson of the Economist (I almost wrote “the Economist’s Johnson” but I’m afraid that would introduce an innuendo that I did not intend…but which still makes me giggle, which is why I told y’all about it!). The latest post discusses the Word of the Year, a tradition of which I have been astonishingly ignorant for my entire life until I started this post. Apparently, Geoff Nunberg’s 2011 Word of the Year is ‘occupy’ but the Oxford Dictionary says it’s ‘squeezed middle’. Finally, ‘pragmatic’ was the choice for the folks at Merriam-Webster. The American Dialect Society will decide theirs in January. This afternoon, Grant Barrett and Ben Zimmer discussed it on Minnesota Public Radio.

Literature

Then it continued to a surprise visit from the three Northeastern sisters to the Florida sister.

  • It’s often difficult for me to choose favorites of anything, and even harder when it comes to books or authors. If forced to choose, however, I would say that my favorite writing was done by Ernest Hemingway. I know, I know – too obvious, too clichéd, too misogynist, too overrated. I don’t care. That man’s ability to choose his words so perfectly and create so much meaning out of seemingly nothing has always astounded and delighted me, even in his less-than-stellar attempts. Now his papers from his Cuban years are available to scholars and are being preserved.
  • After finishing one book, I often ‘audition’ books to decide what I want to read next. Occasionally, however, I think about adopting a system, like this guy, who made me feel better about not being able to get through Faulkner (even if he did), and whose latest review on Lolita captured the combination of creepiness and brilliance that Nabokov achieved in that book.
  • In case you didn’t catch my posts on Lolita, allow me a moment of unadulterated self-promotion by directing you to Beware of the Russians and The vocabulary of insanity.
  • At the beginning of November, I found this review by Girl on the Contrary of Paris Without End, a biography of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson by Gioia Dilberto. I mentioned that I was putting it on my Amazon wish list. Well, wishes really do come true sometimes, because on Christmas morning, there it was, all shiny and wrapped up in a bright red ribbon under the Christmas tree! Okay, actually the cover is matte and it was wrapped in snowman paper with no bow at all. But to me, it sparkled and glowed! I’m halfway through it and am absolutely in love with the first Mrs.Hemingway, as well as impressed with her latest biographer.

Other interesting phenomena

Next came ships and England and France, oh my!

  • I rarely feel that newspaper articles are potentially life-changing, but a New York Times report, “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?“, may ultimately prove to be an exception.
  • I just read this yesterday: “The Fat Trap“, also in the New York Times. The article describes the biochemical changes in the bodies of those of us who have lost weight. In short, losing weight is hard, and it appears that those who do manage it will have a harder time to maintain the lower weight than someone who never had to lose weight. At first glance, this may seem depressing, and it might be to some. But to a total contrarian like me, it’s a challenge. So they say it’s often too difficult to maintain after losing weight and hitting age 40? Well, the surest way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t, so just watch me!
  • Early recordings of Alexander Graham Bell have been found and can actually be played now. Now I must confess: ever since doing graduate work in Deaf Education, I have not been a big fan of Mr.Bell’s. Sure, the telephone is all well and good, but his views on deafness and efforts to ‘correct’ deaf people have made him something of a pariah in the Deaf community (more on this is coming in a still-unfinished post about Deaf education and language acquisition). But it’s still pretty cool to hear something recorded 125-ish years ago.
  • Today somebody tweeted a link to a site where you can see your name written in Japanese script. My name, as usual, was not part of the database. It offered me Lenore, Lenora, and Leanora, but naturally I was not satisfied. What gave me hope was that I was referred to another website that might have my name in its database. When I entered my name into that server, here’s what I got: “You entered the name: Leonore. There is a problem with this input! The letter(s) that caused the problem are: leonore. Please correct the input and try again.” Le sigh. So, knowing that there really isn’t a separate /l/ in Japanese, I typed in Reonore, and Yahtzee! Here’s my name:   (If you try this with your names, I hope you will have more luck than I did.)

The twilight of 2011 saw some seriously barbaric yawping as most of my writing students passed their exams.

Just as we tend to look back at the end of the year to see where we’ve been, it’s also natural to have a look forward at where we are about to go. Like many, I make resolutions for myself – goals that I feel are manageable and that I feel will help me be better. I even write them out to create a physical manifestation to which I will then be accountable. The goals for the coming year involve small steps that I hope will add up to bigger changes that I need in my life.

This past year has had plenty of low points and I’m quite frankly glad to watch the door slam 2011 on its ass on its way out, but it also had its share of highs. One of these has been the introduction to so many wonderful writers and bloggers, and this is one thing that I have every intention of keeping with me as we enter a brand new year.

So to all of you reading this now, I thank you deeply and sincerely for the pleasure of your virtual company and look forward to another year of the same! Happy 2012 to you all!

Right, now spill! What are your resolutions?

10 thoughts on “Retrospective.

  1. Looking forward to checking out all of the links, thank you.
    This year I resolve to do something out of my comfort zone. I miss singing, so I am going to join a choir again. I also have this secret desire to try acting again (I used to act a bit in high school) but I am still a bit petrified…we’ll see.

    Happy New Year to you and I always enjoy reading your blog!

    • Wow – I was in drama club in high school and in the church choir in college! I think it’s awesome that you’re going out of your comfort zone. We should all push ourselves to do it more often.

      Hope you enjoy the links.

      Happy New Year, and the feeling is mutual!

  2. This was a treasure trove of goodies, Leonore! Pinker’s take was hilarious, and Berman is exactly right. I’ve explored nearly every link, and I will go back and touch on those I have yet to see. As I type, I am listening to the interview from MN public radio. For the recorded ‘squeezed middle’ is not a word. One of my biggest pet peeves is seen weekly at a school near our house. Each week the teachers focus on a new word – the word of the week. The word of the week flashes on the electric sign of the school, letting every passer by know what the word is for the week. Leonore, on more than one occasion, the ‘word of the week’ is more than a word. Case in point, I’ve seen the following listed: ‘Respect others’ and ‘Be kind’. Perhaps, when school resumes, the ‘word’ I’ll find flashing on the school sign is ‘squeezed middle’. ARGH!

    Wonderfully informative (and entertaining), Leonore. Thank you!

    • Hey, I’m with you on ‘squeezed middle’. Maybe if we smooshed it together as we English-speakers like to do, and make it “squiddle” or something. Hey, I’m part of the 99% squiddle! Uh…maybe not. Squeezle?

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the links, and impressed at how many you followed. I love the Pinker video. I don’t know if you’ve ever read anything by him, but I think you should pick up his book The Language Instinct. It’s so interesting and his style is so approachable and entertaining.

      Happy New Year, Lenore! (See, you would have no problem with the Japanese translator site!)

  3. Happy New Year, Leonore! What a great note to end on for 2011. I WAS planning (as my resolution) to make a proper calendar and send people cards on anniversaries, etc., but I go back to work tomorrow and still haven’t started it! So my new resolution is to drink more water. …How hard can that be? Except it looks like vodka and sometimes I get confused. ;)

    I’m so looking forward to more of your posts in 2012!

    • Oh man, I thought it was only me who confused vodka and water! ;) Actually, I swear that drinking more water is on my list as well.

      I’m terrible at cards. If you stumble on a trick that helps you, please share! Sometimes I even write the card weeks in advance and then still mail it late because I forget. Oddly enough, I’m very organized about many things, but I just can’t seem to get a handle on greeting cards. Perhaps instead I’ll just work on accepting that fact ;)

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