About ten years ago, I read Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity. I enjoyed it enough that I still remember quite a few details and would probably read it again if I had a copy of it in front of me. The protagonist, Rob Fleming, is a Peter Pan sort of character: he owns a record store, has commitment issues, and spends most of his time compiling his Top Five lists. Top Five Most Memorable Break-Ups, Top Five Subtitled Movies, Top Five Elvis Costello Films…you get the idea.
They changed his name (Rob Gordon) and location (Chicago), but the movie version of High Fidelity starring John Cusack is actually quite good (Image courtesy of Zap 2 It)
I tried to pick a few Top Five items since reading that book, and it’s much harder than one might think. Perhaps I was choosing the wrong categories, ones for which I don’t have very clear criteria for determining what’s good and what’s bad. Even when I am more certain of what I do or do like, it’s an agonizing task to try to whittle a list down to only five items.
Theoretical category: Five Books to Have When Stranded on a Deserted Island. Impossible! How can I chose only five? Should I chose the five longest books I know and haven’t read yet so they’ll provide more material for long, solitary days? But what if I hate them? But if I chose tried and true (read and loved?) books, won’t I get sick of them if that’s all I had to read for 20 or more years? Do I want to taint my memory of A Memorable Feast or The Hobbit? Continue reading
I watched a video this weekend. It was not a comedy or action film, and there was certainly no romance. At the risk of sounding intensely geeky, I will admit that I watched a 30-minute video of linguist David Crystal discussing text abbreviations. I’ve had the link bookmarked in my “Things to read” folder for several months now. I don’t even remember what initially brought my attention to it, but it’s been staring at me daily for far too long, and whatever it was that made me reluctant to watch it was finally put aside as I sat down with pen and paper, ready to watch and take notes.
As much as I tried to go into this with an open mind, my skepticism was already in place before I even started watching. The subtitle of the video is “Professor David Crystal, one of the world’s leading linguistic experts, challenges the myth that new communication technologies are destroying language.” Right away, the bias is revealed. Using the word “myth” immediately implies that any thought that the ideas to be discussed are pure fiction; that there is no truth to these claims of linguistic torture. I feel that it’s a bit premature and arrogant to be so unconcerned at this point, especially since that peace of mind runs counter to the frustrating experiences that my colleagues and I have with students taking our composition courses.
Still, I watched, maintaining as much objectivity as possible, and tried to think rationally about the points Crystal made in his brief talk. He explores four “myths” about texting abbreviations that have taken hold in society since texting became so ubiquitous. In order, he discusses the following concerns: Continue reading
I was asked the other day if I could explain why ‘govern’ and related words were all spelled and pronounced with a /v/ but ‘gubernatorial’ had a /b/. I didn’t have a firm answer, but I mentioned the idea of loan words occasionally maintaining some of the morphology of the original language rather than being totally anglicized. It seemed reasonable but of course I wouldn’t be satisfied until I did some research.
So off I went. I broke out my OED, my Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, I googled information on consonant shifts in High German in the 9th and 10th centuries, I pulled out old textbooks on historical linguistics, and I even checked out books of the history of English from the library. I was hot on the trail and working hard on figuring out the answer. Then I found this and it more or less took the wind out of my sails. My consolation was that I had pretty much come up with the same solution, although it was shaping up to be a much wordier one. At least allow me to at least add a few additional details. Continue reading