My English broke early in the Solomon Islands. I was surprised and slightly alarmed – I earn my living from knowing about these things. I realised I was in trouble when writing in my journal (lying in the hammock, a breeze keeping the heat at bay …) I wrote ‘siteseeing’ and could not work out if I should’ve written sightseeing. With many custom sites – significant ancestral places – in the Solomons, ‘site’ seemed like the right word to me. I turned to my husband – known for his skills as a firefighter not as a speller – to ask him about site and sight. He looked at me with great pity.
Is it only me? Am I the only one who doesn’t get the whole NAB “It’s over between us” thing? Sure, the big bank launched their campaign with a big bang earlier this week, and sure, they have garnered plenty of attention. But what does it all mean? One of the challenges of selling something intangible – and in trying to change the bank’s image they are selling something intangible – is that you have to use words. There is nothing to take a picture of, no ‘whiter than white’ image to leave us with; there is nothing to touch, none of the knobs and dials of the hi-fi showroom.
There is a Chinese proverb that says “talk does not cook rice”. Very true. But a lot of talk - and writing - takes place between the paddy field and the pot. Words are essential for making ourselves understood, getting things done and, of course, building strong relationships. When words become worthless, confusion reigns. Right now in Australia we are being given a sense of what it would be like to live in a world in which words are meaningless.
I've got a bee in my bonnet and of late it has got more and more active. Someone's got to help! Now I pride myself on not being a pedant on subjects linguistic. Your pronunciation of pronunciation is no concern of mine. I'm as prone as the next person to completely overlook the odd split infinitive. If U chooz to use groovy SMS spelling in your txt, I'll LOL with you.
Over forty years is a long time to work on a single task. Yet that has been the lot of the four editors of the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. The massive 3,952 page double volume will be released this month, the culmination of the editors’ entire careers. In our world of fast, it is a timely reminder that, sometimes, good things need time. This new thesaurus has been pulled together almost entirely by hand. Words from past and present editions of the full dictionary were studiously transcribed onto slips of paper, then sorted, stacked and re-sorted into categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories, and finally put into historical context. Nearly a million words were sorted this way into quarter of a million categories. And, as I said, it took over 40 years.
So Barack Obama has made another inspirational speech. This is hardly remarkable: we’ve known for some time that Obama makes George W. look like a performing seal, and an inarticulate one at that. Yet even in this context Obama’s speech in Cairo was remarkable. In less than 6000 words he was able to strip bare some of the most complex international politics of the last 100+ years. To read his speech is to wonder what all the fuss has been about. There was much anticipation of this speech. It was always going to involve treading a careful path. How could he raise the issues without raising ire? In the end, Obama didn’t tiptoe the fine line nor stumble over it. He simply strode along it as if it were a red carpet.