This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, July 25, 2001

July 25, 2001 - My Fascination with the Mother Tongue

It all started in 7th grade. I got caught in a study hall with nothing to read and no homework to do. I rooted around in my desk and found a dictionary. I started reading it ... and got hooked.

That particular dictionary also gave word roots. So I not only got to soak up different meanings, but I began to get a sense of where the word had come from, and how meanings shifted through each linguistic turn.

Thus began a lifelong fascination with the English language. My home library now includes several dictionaries (including a miniaturized version of the Oxford English Dictionary that requires a magnifying glass), and a smattering of books about the development of the English tongue.

This interest, I have learned, is shared by many. An example is the popular "Word A Day" email newsletter. It happens that I got this as a surprise gift from our Library Board President. But you can sign up yourself at wordsmith.org/awad/subscribe.html. The subscription is absolutely free.

What do you get? Well, here's one of the daily messages I saved:

paramnesia (par-am-NEE-zhuh) noun

1. A distortion of memory in which fact and fantasy are confused.
2. The inability to recall the correct meaning of a word.

[New Latin, par-, amnesia.]

"God's attention, then loss of attention, his control, then loss of control over the actions of the squirming and chanting boot jacks, is consistent with Ellis's discussion of paramnesia."

Dennis Ryan, `A Divine Gesture': Hemingway's complex parody of the modern, Hemingway Review, Fall 1996.

In other words, you get the pronunciation, definitions, and a use of the word in a sentence. The words are usually grouped in a week by some theme. The above was part of the theme of "Words for ailments and afflictions."

And this comes every day. Some, like the one above, can be most apt. Here's another favorite:

"pococurante (po-ko-koo-RAN-tee, ) adjective. Indifferent, apathetic, nonchalant. Noun - A careless or indifferent person." When you need a word like that, you need it NOW.

The same folks also send an occasional summary of subscriber comments, or "A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages." The most recent I've received is Issue 39, dated July 22, 2001. It's a mixed bag. It can have an intercontinental tilt: as in a recommendation of Victor Hugo's "The Man Who Laughs," to an explanation of the French use of the suffix "-ard" to add insult. A subscriber writes, "For instance, while chauffeur in French means driver-- not just the limo kind: Chauffeur de taxi means, simply taxi driver-- 'chauffard' is slang for someone who drives badly." Also included in the issue is a fond remembrance of the old cartoon "Underdog," and this classic comment from someone currently stationed on an aircraft carrier (USS Constellation) deployed to the Persian Gulf: "Now when we enter another foreign port, we can sound a little more educated as we make our way to the local bars and tattoo parlors."

For more reading about our wonderful language, I recommend,"The Story of English," by Robert McCrum, Robert MacNeil, and William Cran, which is an outstanding companion to the BBC series of the same name. Another favorite is Bill Bryson's, "the Mother Tongue: English and How It Got that Way."

"The difference between the right word, and the almost right word, is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." - Mark Twain.

No comments:

Post a Comment