wordzly

The world of words, reading and writing

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?

HOOOOOOOWWWWWWWW?

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.

Candy House

Weee!! Halloween is my favourite holiday. Scares for all! What would be more fitting tonight than a scary little story from yours truly? I do so hope you enjoy. Come on, step inside the candy house.

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It’s Halloween, my favourite holiday, the only night it’s acceptable to take candy from strangers.

Perhaps I’m getting too old for trick-or-treating but my friend Mark and I go every year, it’s like a tradition. Plus I’ve already got my costume – sexy Red Riding Hood. Mark’s going as a vampire. So original. It’s dark out, only a sliver of moon in the sky. There’s a slight fog heading in. Perfect Halloween weather. We set off on our usual path; we’ve done this enough to know which houses give the goods and which aren’t worth the time.

After maybe three quarters of an hour we stop to check our progress. It’s a good haul this year, maybe one of the best. Of course, we’ll need to sample some first before we can make a final verdict. Mark and I drop down on the grass and have a quick rifle through, peeling off the wrappers from a few choice selections. I think we’ve earned a little reward for all our hard work. I’m taking my first bite when I hear a high-pitched giggle from somewhere behind me. My head whips around as I scan the edge of the woods behind me. It’s too dark to see anything. Probably just some dumb kids. Except now there’s murmuring. And it sounds closer. There’s definitely more than one person. I motion to Mark. He’s heard it too. I bet it’s someone’s lame idea of a prank. That’s the point of Halloween, right? To scare people. Not that I’m scared.

“Come on,” I tell Mark, “Let’s show them how immature they’re being”. I walk to the edge of the woods and peer in once more. How far in are they?  I look back to where Mark’s hovering at our candy bags. Some help he is. I take a few tentative steps in amongst the trees. Not too far. I mean, I don’t want to get lost. They’re whispering again but the trees distort the sound and I can’t work out where it’s coming from. There’s a rustling to my left. I turn around but there’s no one there. Now it’s coming from my right. It seems to be coming from all around me. How is that possible? How many people are out here? Fine. Whatever. I don’t care anymore. I turn around to go and that’s when someone grabs my arm. I scream and spin around to see who it is. And I scream again. Because staring at me are two big grinning Jack O’Lanterns, looming over me and laughing. OK, they’re not laughing. The kids wearing them are laughing. Mark races to my side. Finally.

“What’s going on?” he ask, as the two kids pull the pumpkins off their heads.

“Trick or treat!” they both squeal. “Got you good!”

Oh great. It’s Jenna and Jonah. They’re these two kids – brother and sister – in my class that moved here like a month ago. Now the whole school’s going to hear about this. Or maybe not. Jenna and Jonah are totally weird and keep to themselves.

“So funny,” I retort, “Not!” Yeah, that sucked but let’s see you think of a comeback when you’ve just been scared stupid.

Jenna and Jonah are both giggling like a pair of lunatics as they skip over to where we left our candy.

“Trick or treat. Trick or treat,” they chant together, “so many lovely things to eat!”

“Eat your own,” I say, “this is ours.”

And that’s when I notice. Their bags are totally empty.

“I hope your stupid joke was worth it,” I say, “because you’ve basically missed out on any candy now. People stop handing it out soon.”

“Doesn’t matter”, Jenna says.

“We’ve got a secret,” Jonah chimes in, “Want to hear it?”

“No”, Mark and I both reply. Although I kind of do.

“We only need one house,” Jenna mocks, “And we’ll get more candy than both of you”.

Yeah, for sure.

“Prove it”, I say. “Go trick-or-treat at one house and show us how good you are.”

They turn and grin wildly at one another. “Deal”, they say together.

I start to step onto the street to cross over to the house opposite but Jenna calls out to me.

“No! It’s got to be the right house. The candy house.”

What are they even talking about? I told you they were weird.

“The secret house. The candy house. It always gives out unlimited candy”, Jonah adds.

Why have I never head of this? Unlimited candy? Mark and I have been wasting our time. Not that I believe anything these two dorks are saying.

“Fine,” I sigh. “Where is this stupid house?”

“Through the woods”, they reply.

Are you kidding me? Like I want to go tramping through the woods with these two losers on Halloween.

“Let’s leave these kids”, I say to Mark as I pick up my bag.

But Mark isn’t listening. “How far is it?” he asks.

Jenna and Jonah share another smile.

“Not far.”

Mark turns to me. I can’t believe it. He actually wants to go.

“If you’re lying…” I say to the two of them.

“Never lie to a very best friend”, Jenna chants.

Great. Now they think we’re friends.

They set off, skipping madly through the woods.

“Candy house. Candy house. What will you get at the candy house?”

Seriously, are these two brain-damaged?

Mark and I are struggling to keep up. They’re practically running and we’ve got to carry our half-full bags of candy.

“Slow down for a minute,” I say, “some of us have an extra load”.

Jenna stops suddenly and grabs my bag out of my hands before I can react. The next second she’s dumped it all out on the ground.

“What the hell?” I cry out hotly.

“You don’t need it. You’ll forget about it once we’re at the candy house.”

Jonah scoops a few pieces off the ground and throws them at me.

“Trick or treat! Trick or treat! So many lovely things to eat!”

They both set off again and I reluctantly follow. If I don’t get at least double the candy I had, Jenna can come back and pick up every last piece for me.

It feels like we’ve been walking for ages and I’m about to complain when Jenna and Jonah stop.

“The candy house”, they say in hushed tones.

I can’t believe it. I thought we were just cutting through the woods but there’s actually a house all alone out here. It looks ancient, like a haunted house. What’s a house doing out in the woods anyway? Jenna grabs my hand.

“Come on.”

You know what? I don’t want to get any closer. Something creeps me out about the house.

“No way anyone lives here. Let’s go back”, I say.

“No!” Jenna shouts. She sounds angry. “The candy house.”

She starts pulling me towards it. Jonah does the same with Mark.

I decide to obey. The sooner they realise no one lives here, the sooner we can leave. The four of us crowd around the front door.

“Ring it”, Jonah tells me.

What? This was their idea, not mine. I can tell Mark’s having second thoughts. There’s no way I can let him know how scared I am. Slowly, I extend a finger and press down on the doorbell. I can’t hear anything. It probably doesn’t even work.

“No one’s home,” I say, “let’s go”.

“Knock”, Jenna orders.

I knock on the door. It swings open against my touch. Inside it’s dark. I can barely see a thing. It’s pretty obvious this house is abandoned. And then Jenna just walks straight in.

“What are you doing?” I hiss.

“Candy time”, she replies.

OK, she’s clearly mental. Where does she expect to get candy from in here?

“Come in,” Jenna beckons, “come inside the candy house”.

I hesitate. Jonah shoves me roughly from behind.

“Candy time”, he says.

They shepherd Mark and me inside the house and we stand awkwardly in the entrance.

“OK, great. We came, we saw, it was a complete waste of time,” I say, “Let’s go”.

That’s when Jonah closes the door. He looks to his sister and they both grin. Oh God, their teeth are glowing in the dark. Why are they so sharp?

“Candy time”, they say.

Jenna grabs my arm with a vice-like grip. Jonah pins Mark’s behind him. They both start chanting once more:

“Trick or treat! Trick or treat! So many lovely things to eat!”

All Your Memes are Belong to Us

I was going to talk about memes but then I took an arrow to the knee. Ahahahaaahaahaaaa!

But seriously, what is with memes? I just don’t get them. What is their merit? Why are people laughing at them?

I suppose I better stop at this point and maybe define what a meme is for anyone who doesn’t know. Essentially, they are ideas that are spread across the internet. They don’t necessarily have to be ‘jokes’ but these particular memes are what I am focusing on.

Memes can only exist on the internet. Because once they are transplanted into the real world you realise what a ludicrous premise they are. Memes aren’t even jokes, really. Jokes stand on their own and are funny in their own right. Memes need context and an understanding of the origin of the meme. Take ‘Nope, Chuck Testa’ for example. If someone says, ‘Nope, Chuck Testa’ that’s not funny if you don’t know who Chuck Testa is and why he’s saying ‘Nope, Chuck Testa’. Saying something that someone else said isn’t funny. That’s not how humour works. Saying something funny that someone else said might be funny. But not when a person is hearing it for the 1000th time. And that’s what a meme is. It’s just a mass of people repeating the same thing verbatim

Memes are the bane of creativity. Instead of original thought they breed stock responses. Imagine if a comedian got up on stage and proceeded to just repeat the jokes of the previous comedian. Imagine if every comedian after that continued to just repeat the same jokes. That’s essentially what memes are. Perhaps a meme starts off as funny but just like anything else repetition quickly kills its value. They quickly lose all humour, as it becomes about being recognisable rather than funny. It’s basically an internet-wide ‘in’ joke. When you have an ‘in’ joke with friends, those not in on the joke don’t find it funny because they have no idea what you’re talking about. They have no point of reference. To me, memes seem to be ‘in’ jokes but mostly without the jokes. The point seems to be to just reference the meme so everyone can know that you ‘get it’. That you’re in on it. You understand the internet.

Just to clarify, I find some memes humourous. But only the memes that allow variation. Writing ‘First’, ‘Nope. Chuck Testa’ or ‘C-c-c combo breaker’ isn’t funny because they’re the same phrase pigeon-holed into wherever they may vaguely be able to fit. Adapting a meme’s concept to create an original joke can be funny. So, something like the advice dog memes are fine because you take the original idea of the meme and create something new around it. Yay, somewhat originality!!

Oh memes, y u no try harder!

Internet Apocalypse

Some of my regular readers (one can hope!) may have noticed my bloggy absence lately, and would no doubt be gutted at the recently pathetic output of my techno tidbits. Fortunately, I am not dead. But my internet had been for the last week or so. And the burning question I had been asking myself as I stumbled through the no-web wasteland of real life is ‘Can we live without the internet?’

Obviously we can, in the sense that a broadband connection is not a biological necessity, but does our life have any worth if we live it unplugged? Ok, so I’m being sarcastic. We don’t need the internet. We managed perfectly fine without it for several thousand years. But in our modern technophile lifestyle the internet undoubtedly plays a very large part. It seems there are more Facebook accounts than there are people in the world (and with people making Facebook profiles for their unborn foetus babies, that may very well be true). Anything you can do in real life, you can do online quicker. I wouldn’t call myself an internet addict but I would use it nearly every day.

Surprisingly, I carried on with life rather easily during my time offline. It suddenly didn’t matter that I had no way of knowing what everyone was eating for lunch or which pseudo celebrity was trending.

I hadn’t even seen Gangnam Style until my friend forced me to watch it last weekend. (It was mildly amusing but I feel no need to ever watch it again or force ‘Oppa Gangnam style!’ into casual conversation.)

My regular internet activity just seemed so mundane and pointless when viewed in the cold light of real-life-not-Tumblr-Instagram-or-Reddit day. (Clarification: I visit none of these sites. I’m not even sure how to Tumble). So why as a society are so obsessed with the internet? Are our lives that depressing that we resort to acting out a better one online? I mean, does anyone really need to see another cat picture?

OMG! Memes! I could write a whole post on memes (and I probably will now that I’ve thought of it). I just don’t get the point of them. If you were to repeat a phrase ad nauseum in real life, everyone you knew would desert you. You would probably be confined to a mental institution. Seriously, what’s up with memes?

Oh well. Better go tweet this.

Literary vs. Popular Fiction

Generally, fiction can be split into two categories: literary or popular. Literary works are those that are critically acclaimed for their ‘literary merit’ and focus more on the inner story of the characters than the plot, whilst popular fiction is more mainstream and less ‘serious’. Someone, somewhere, at some time, decided that literary works were the only ones of any merit. Literary critics rave about how fantastic literary writers are, and it seems the more obscure and esoteric the writer, the better their work is regarded. Popular writers, these critics bemoan, are not of the same calibre. They are derided as hack who might be able to spin a good yarn but whose writing appeals only to the basest of intellectuals. I find this totally unfair.

Popular writers should not have to apologise for what they do. The fact that they are ‘popular’ and widely read does not necessitate low-quality writing. Surely, if they are so popular they must be doing something right? I would argue that story trumps writing. Writing is still important. Awful, uninspiring and clichéd writing is dreadful to read, but a book could have the most spritely, intelligent, sophisticated prose on earth and still tell the most dreary story that no one can be bothered to read.

In fact, I would say good writing is writing that you don’t even notice. If you are constantly stopping during a book to marvel at a turn of phrase then you are being drawn out of the world that the author has created. If you look at popular books such as the Harry Potter series, Hunger Games or 50 Shades trilogies, this writing isn’t fantastic but it isn’t bad (50 Shades might be debatable but I haven’t read it). What is so popular here is the story they tell, the characters we want to know, the places we want to visit. And an author that can manage to create all that is pretty good in my books.

Words that Sound and Look Ugly

Words are beautiful. They allow us to communicate, to write, to speak, to sing, to read. Oh, what beauty pervades a word! Sure, words are a beautiful concept but there exists some words that are just plain ugly. I’m not talking about words with ugly connotations like pus or scum. I’m talking about words that are totally innocent in meaning but just look or sound totally disgusting. They don’t sit right with me: they have awkward phonetics or an odd conglomeration of letters. There’s just something about them that is cringe-inducing.

Freer

This just looks so wrong. There’s nothing particularly offensive when saying it, but the problem lies in the rift between how it is sounded and how it is spelt. I would much rather it be spelt ‘freeyer’. Also, the ‘fr’ sound is such as awkward one that makes words like Frack and Fructose ugly. These words are perhaps worse because they are paired with the harsh ‘k’ sound.

Gist

Again, this looks so wrongly spelt. Actually, spelt sounds really stupid now.

Purge

Cooperate

I hate that this word isn’t hyphenated. The rule of hyphens is usually that when a single-syllable prefix ends with the same vowel as the word starts with, you hyphenate it. So you have ‘de-emphasise’ or re-enter’. For some foolish reason this doesn’t apply to doubled up o’s. It looks like someone’s had a really bad go at spelling recuperate and it annoys me fiercely. Similarly, I hate Unselfconsciously. This word needs some serious hyphenation!

Undergird

Oestrus

Too many hissing s’s, not to mention that ‘o’. What does it think it’s doing there?

Extirpation

This word means to destroy or remove, so why not just use ‘elimination’? There’s just something utterly ridiculous about this word. I’m probably cheating by including it because I can’t help thinking of it as some bastard conglomeration of ‘turnip’, ‘derp’ and ‘constipation’.

Nugget

Udder

I have no problem with ‘utter’ so I’m not entirely sure why I don’t like this word. It’s udder madness!

Putative

I hate that ‘pew’ sound. It’s nothing anti-religious but pew is ew.

Ointment

It’s the ‘oi’ at the start. You can’t sound distinguished when you start by saying ‘oi’.

Cudgel

Seriously, the ‘k’ sound is so harsh and that ‘dg’ sound just makes it worse. I think that’s part of why ‘cunt’ is so offensive. It’s blunt. A blunt cunt. But for one of the most harshly-sounding words, I would go with conk. The bookending of that ‘k’ sound is guttural and the ‘nk’ makes this strange restrictive feel on the back of your throat.

Morsel

Drawer

The ugliness of this word probably comes from my difficulty in saying it. It’s basically just ‘draw’ but then it hangs around for too long. If I’m going to include words that are hell to say then I would have to add Texts. Maybe it’s just me but there’s no way of adding in that second ‘t’ without it sounding horrible, splitting up the word and adding a second syllable. I had to suffer through innumerable English classes trying to vomit out that word. That second ‘t’ has no place being there. Imagine if you put a ‘t’ in ‘checks’. Checkts. See, awful.

I suppose I should also mention Moist. It’s such an ugly word, in fact it’s recognised as the ugliest word in the English language. As much as I dislike the word I wouldn’t include it on this list because I think it mostly has to do with connotation. Sure, it has that ‘oi’ sound and the abrupt ‘t’ ending, but I think the problem comes from visualising what moist represents. I don’t have a problem with a moist cake but a moist tissue or a moist carpet? I think I’m going to be sick.

What about you? Are there any words you just can’t stand?

To Solve or not to Solve?

The main game with a murder mystery novel is to discover the solution before the detective can reveal it. It’s a race against time, a battle of wits between author and reader. But what happens if the reader is able to emerge triumphant? Has the author failed in their task to deceive? Should the reader be disappointed if they solve the ending or commend the author for playing fair?

If the reader can solve the crime then the author is definitely doing their job of creating a puzzle to test the reader. I’m happy to be wowed by an author’s clever trick but I want it to be more than just a trick. If I fail to reach the solution I want it to be because of the author’s superior intellect at hiding the clues or my failure to find them, not because the author simply decided against planting any useful clues in the first place. I would be much happier prematurely solving the crime than having had no chance at ever solving it. If you can’t solve it because the author is withholding information then they have failed to play fair and that is when you should feel cheated.

But does the author actually grant the reader the chance to solve the crime before the detective or do they merely grant the illusion of having this chance? I read a how-to book for writing murder mysteries and in it, the author suggested that the solution should only be obvious once it has been revealed. Certainly, as an author you want the reader to go ‘Of course!’ when you reveal the solution, but they elaborated on this by saying that the clues should only reveal the solution once the clues’ true meaning has been revealed. Basically, they were saying that the clues would only be of use once you had the solution and worked backwards from there.

To me, that doesn’t seem fair. What’s the point of having the clues if you can’t even use them? Wouldn’t you feel more cheated as a reader if you had no chance of solving the crime than if you solved it prematurely? On the seldom occasion that I have deciphered a clue or discovered the solution before it was revealed, I was pleased as punch. If you’ve used some intellect to work out the ending then I think that you would be proud of yourself. Most probably, you would boast about how clever you are to have solved such a difficult puzzle (I know I would). You certainly wouldn’t want to diminish that by complaining about how obvious it was.

Sometimes, however, they are much too obvious. Badly placed clues or far too obvious hinting do make the reader feel cheated. If you are just handed the solution then you’re robbed of the fun of trying to work it out.

So I feel that the author has a very fine line to tread. They must certainly make the crime solvable. But they must also make the reader work in order to solve it. There’s no fun if you never had a chance at solving it and there’s no fun if there was no chance of you not solving it.

Jeez, it must be hard being an author.

Grammar Nazis: What are the Limits of Tolerance?

Everyone knows one: that person that takes their love of grammar too far. (how could such a thing be possible!) Their Facebook wall consists only of correcting mistakes in other’s statuses. They see mangled syntax as sinful, grow tense when someone uses the wrong tense, and are averse to misused adverbs.

On the other hand we all know someone who flies in the face of all that is holy in grammar. To them, punctuation is merely a suggestion, not a rule; there isn’t enough time in the day for spell checking; they have a strong affinity for the caps lock key.

But which is worse: those that defy any attempts at proper grammar or those that enforce its every rule?

The point of grammar is to achieve clarity when reading, writing and speaking. We need clarity if we are to effectively communicate with others. So grammar definitely has an important role to play. But does it matter if we occasionally misspell or misuse a word? No, as long as your intended meaning is still clear. The stakes can be high when it’s the difference between ‘Let’s eat, Sarah’ and ‘Let’s eat Sarah’.

I do have my gripes though. I can’t help but add ‘ly’ to everyone’s adjective when they meant an adverb. ‘I ran quick’, ‘I laughed loud’, ‘I spoke rude’ all make me want to hit someone. (Preferably the person saying these.)

Incorrect tense is also annoying. ‘I done this’ is probably my most hated saying of all time. ‘I done this good’ just makes me cry. ‘I done this real good’: Now you must die.

I think we should also be more lenient with informal writing. I don’t care if somebody doesn’t capitalise the beginning of each sentence when they’re messaging me or there’s the occasional sentence fragment. Recently, a friend asked me ‘Weather’ I was free on the weekend, and I was able to cope with that because it was obvious what she meant. Abbreviations are usually fine as well when writing informally. You can take the ‘g’ off of ‘swimming’ and I’ll still understand what you mean, but I draw the line when ‘U start talkn Lyk dis cOs u a ganGsta’. And please, don’t just take the vowel out of every word. That’s not how you abbreviate.

So yes, little mistakes are fine as long as the meaning is still understandable. We should all aim for clarity but not get too caught up in getting everything write all the time. See?

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