The world of words, reading and writing

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

A Silly Little Ditty

Sometimes when I haven’t got a single thing to do

I have a little boredom buster that I’ll share with you

Although it isn’t often I have nothing on my plate

It’s equally effective as a way to procrastinate

It really is quite simple and it shouldn’t take you long

You simply make a little poem and set it to a song

Just write whatever’s in your head, it doesn’t matter what

Then set it to the tune of whatever music you consider hot

Maybe you could rap it out or set it to a soulful tune

Or maybe if you’d rather not, you could just dress like a prune

I’m like Shakespeare. I do this fairly often, except not the prune thing.


Death of the Author

This just in: the author is dead. Ok, this is old news. The author has been dead for 45 years.

In 1967 literary critic Roland Barthes wrote an essay titled ‘Death of the Author’, in which he claimed the author was no longer relevant to an understanding of the text. Anyone who has done high school English will probably remember writing copious essays about how an author’s context influences their values and beliefs, and how these in turn influence the text and the values it expresses. This traditional approach to literary criticism sees the influences on an author – their historical, cultural, geographical, political and religious etc. context – as shaping the author’s text. To understand a text we must first understand the author.

Barthes rejected this approach, saying that “To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text”. Basically, Barthes was rejecting a definitive explanation of texts that relied only on authorial intent. I agree wholeheartedly with Barthes. Of course it makes sense when trying to interpret a text’s meaning, to look at what the author may have meant. They DID write it after all. Surely they’re the best judge of what the text meant. But mightn’t a text have more than one meaning? Mightn’t a text have no meaning at all?  If we focus only on trying to discover what the author intended then we miss many other interpretations. How do we know what an author intended anyway?

That’s what I dislike most about traditional literary criticism. It assumes we can definitively know what an author meant. How? How can we read a text, come up with a single explanation of it and decide that is what the author meant?


We can’t. Unless they tell us. And even then, that’s just their interpretation. We can have our own. And if they won’t let us, then there’s only one solution. Kill the authors!

Too late. They’re already dead.

Zombie authors? I’m going to stop writing now.

Mismatched Meanings

We need to stop doubling up on words. The English language has all these words with multiple meanings that actually contradict one another. These words are called contronyms (or auto-antonyms) – words that due to their multiple meanings, are actually antonyms of themselves. Such as:

Scan – originally it meant to carefully peruse something thoroughly and completely, but it also now means to quickly skim over something.

This is especially frustrating because, unlike other homonyms, which meaning is meant is not always made clear in the context of the sentence.

‘Is she a careful editor?’

‘See for yourself. She scans through all the material.’

Is this promoting her editorial skills or denouncing them? Is she carefully reading through everything or just glancing over it?

Consult – to ask or seek advice

‘I sought consult’ vs. ‘I gave consult’

Custom – may mean the usual or unusual

‘that is the custom’

‘Her jeans are custom’

Dust – Either remove dust or sprinkle something

Fast – quick or unmoving

‘He ran fast’ vs. ‘he was stuck fast’

Handicap – can mean an advantage or a disadvantage

Left – as in ‘who’s left?’ Are you asking who is still remaining or who has departed? Although to be fair, this is only a problem due to the contraction. When you expand it to either ‘who has’ or ‘who is’ the meaning becomes clear.

Oversight – to watch over or supervise vs. a failure to notice something

Temper – tempering metal means to solidify, yet tempering chocolate means to melt

Seriously, the English language can just be bizarre at times.

Post Navigation