Sunday, October 30, 2011

Word and words

The other night the name of a new follower on Twitter reminded me of my journalism teacher.  That poor man; good thing he had short hair.  If his hair were long enough to grasp and pull, he'd been bald because of me.  The issue was my editing skills.  The point was I couldn't spell.  The defining moment came when he handed me first a dictionary and then the galley with the instruction try it again.  Round and round we went.  I thought I was done.  He said there was still an error.  My teacher finally circled a paragraph and made me look up each word in the dictionary.  When I couldn't find one of the words, he suggested I run through the rest of the vowels.  Who'd of guessed the word "initiation" begins with an "I"? The way most people say it the first letter is an "A". 
The following day my teacher presented me with a paperback Roget's Thesaurus.  If I didn't know how to spell a word I could look up one that meant similar and cross-reference.  Bless the man.  By the end of the year I'd graduated to Roget's International Thesaurus and a life long love of words.

Personal computers are wonderful.  Thank you Microsoft for Word.  However, Word and I do not speak the same language and it refuses to learn mine.  I refuse to be limited by it.

A few years ago I taught English as a Second Language in the work place.  Although the local community college provided instructors, out of self-preservation the company asked me to take over the class.  The out-going teacher left me his lesson plans and material.  First thing I noticed was the dialect, phrasing if you will, syntax if you'd rather.  Obviously he wasn't from the Pacific Northwest. 

I was facing students from all parts of Asia, several countries in Europe, the Middle East and then Russia.  (Google Russia; their language is barely the same from one time zone to the next.) How was I supposed to get everyone on the same page? 

Star Trek.  I defy you to find someone who has not heard or uttered the phrase "beam me up Scotty".  The boss about had heart failure when he walked by the class and overheard us role playing scenes from Star Trek 4, The Voyage Home.  Everyone knew the movie.  We were on common ground which encouraged the whole class to work on enunciation.  Plus it was fun and people learn more when they're having fun.

Then came the day I corrected one of the students by explaining I was teaching American, not English.  What's the difference she asked.  This happened to be a day we were studying verbs so I picked "walk" as an example.  In America we go for a walk after dinner.  Or perhaps we go for a stroll, which technically is a more English word yet one common to the West Coast where you stroll on beaches.  In Canada they go out and about, pronounced oot and a boot.  Down in Australia they take walkabouts which means they might be back next year. 

American is cool.  We stroll, hike, go, plod, tread, trek, traipse, plow, struggle, wade, shuffle and tiptoe and the list continues.  But basically, we walk.  When you think about it ours is a huge growing language yet it only works as long as we've common ground.  Check out the dictionary, there are 27 primary uses of the word "mean".  The first time I'd read that someone went "toes-up" I thought she'd died.  Imagine my response a page later when she was fixing dinner.  (Who'd of guessed toes-up meant she was taking a nap.  In context to the story up to that point, she could have died.)

Microsoft Word and I have numerous disagreements usually resulting in me mumbling curses at its inflexibility.  Yes, I really did mean to say the statues appear to be strolling down the path, present tense.  The argument over some words and/or phrases has escalated to the point I swear Word is making up grammar rules.  My favorite is when it informs me I've used an obscure word.  Try telling it to ignore or learn when this message pops up.  Just for fun see how many different ways you can use the word "stalk" alone or with suffixes without getting the "you're wrong" message.

A friend asked why I haven't disabled grammar and/or spell check.  If I were to disable the latter my proofreaders would threaten my life.  As for the former - why ruin my fun?  I have a vocabulary and I know how to use it.

(I have to share this, as posted on FaceBook by my sister and proofreader - "Paragraph 7, line 2: dump the period between "but basically" and "we walk"; paragraph 8, line 2: curses at ITS inflexibility."  Most impressive, Gayle refrained from remarking how I had time to write a blog and she is still waiting on chapter 4 of Done & Said.)

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