My five year old notices words. When he was three he started spelling words that he saw out in public.
“S-T-O-P,” he would announce as we approach an intersection.
“Will you tell me if you need to go potty?” I would ask. “O-K-A-Y,” he would say. “I will T-R-Y.”
When he was four he started to read books out loud to himself. Books like The Cat in the Hat and Fox in Socks. At first, we knew he had likely memorized the books because we’d read them to him so many times. But when we started to bring home Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books from the library, we knew he could read. He didn’t have those memorized, yet he sat on his bed, reading them out loud (and at the top of his lungs).
Once a month the editors at my workplace get together for a meeting we call “Editors on Editing.” It’s a great time. We set aside one hour each month to talk about the crafts of writing and editing. We compare notes, share books, tell stories, and laugh a lot. We also take turns leading the discussion at each meeting.
We’re going to have the September meeting tomorrow. In preparation, the colleague leading the meeting asked the rest of us to read through William Zinsser’s chapter on usage from On Writing Well (chapter 7).
On Writing Well is easily one of the best books on writing I have ever read. I’ve recommended it countless times and I reference it frequently. The chapter on usage is a gem. Not only does Zinsser convincingly argue his points, he keeps you laughing all the way through. His witticisms made me laugh out loud as I read them again in preparation for today’s meeting.
My colleague also asked us to be prepared to answer these questions:
1) What are some current words or phrases that are growing in acceptance but that still bother you?
2) Can you think of any words or phrases that have been granted acceptibility despite having a somewhat distasteful past?
3) How do you feel about the following constructions? Are they becoming acceptable in a world that cares less and less about proper usage?
My son went to dinner with my wife and I.
The school administrators decided to up their tuition rates.
Everyone should bring their own lunch.
I’m currently reading Great Expectations for the first time. My copy is 509 pages long and as of this writing I’m on page 211. As I’ve said elsewhere, I think Charles Dickens has the superhuman ability to craft perfect sentences. Along with that superpower comes an incredible vocabulary. I’ve been keeping tracks of words I don’t know on sticky notes in the back cover of my book. I’ve included the list below along with some random comments. For some of these I have been able to derive their meaning based on the context. But for most of them I need to grab a dictionary.
- Rimy – This word is used in my favorite passage of the book so far. Dickens describes the rain on a window “as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief.” Dickens essentially says, “There’s goblin snot on my window!”
- “Lords of the Admirality” – Not a word, but a phrase I need to Google.
- peppercorny – sounds yummy.
- adamantine – Who knew that Dickens was an X-Men fan?