Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Topical words

Topical words – words that have recently appeared in the news
-nomics; Addiction; Ambient; Apology; Arsenal; Ban; Banana; Billy-o; Blue moon; Bluestocking; Boffin; Bogus; Boss; Braggadocious; Brainstorming; Brand; Bribery; Budget; Buff; Bustard; Butler; Cahoot; Camera; Campaign; Carnage; Chad; Chav; Chemical; Clone; Confide; Cooked; Corpus; Coup; Credible; Cronyism; Cull; Culture; Curriculum; Dangerous; Deprecate; Diplomacy; Doh!; Domesday; Enormity; Enthusiast; Ethnic; Experience; Facile; Family; Fan; Farrago; Faze; Frisbee; Good egg; Gravitas; Gunsel; Hooligan; Horlicks; Hundred days; Impeach; Influenza; Insult; Internet; Jafaikan; Jejune; Jubilee; Lasagne; Lewd; List; Mail; McJob; Medium; Meme; Meritocracy; Migrate; Millennium; Mistress; Moment; Moonshine; Morganatic; Murder; Murphy’s Law; Nano; Napping; New; Organic; Pagan; Pander; Panel; Panic; Pants; Paparazzo; Passenger; Phenomenon; Pie; Planet NEW ; Portfolio; Positronic; Prevent; Problemsome; Quantum; Real; Refugee; Replica; Rocket; Rookery; Seaborgium; Sentimental;Shanty; Silicon; Sojourner; Sophisticated; Spade; Spinster; Staple; Sublime; Suburb; Sulphur; Tabloid; Tacky; Target; Tax; Terraforming; The E- prefix; Tiddlywinks; Tsar; Union; Vegelate; Vote; Weird; Welfare; Wildfire; Work; Wormwood; Zip;

Monday, August 14, 2006

Thoughts on the best way to learn how to use language

Magnus Linklater, writing on page 15 of today’s (13.8.06) Scotland on Sunday, deplores ‘the almost complete absence of any reference (in the SQA’s courses and arrangements) to why the English language and its literature should be read and studied in the first place.’

He goes on that this (the reason why English and its literature should be read and studied) has nothing to do with “effective information in contemporary society,” or “deploying language for political purposes.”

But, Linklater claims, ‘it has everything to do with the rhythm of great prose, with the inspiration of poetry, with the beauty and cadence of a well-written line, and the thrilling images that words, well used (and presumably well chosen) can conjure up.’

He states that, ‘you cannot analyse and learn these things, you have to feel them from the start, to relish the good and to understand what distinguishes it from the mediocre and the bad’. (That) ‘this can only really be done through the old adage – “read, learn, inwardly digest, and preferably recite.”’

To say that I wholeheartedly concur with what Linklater thinks is an understatement; I think and believe that the essence of being able to write well is feeling the rhythm of the language – of instinctively knowing some words and the order in which they appear work well in a text.

The main difficulty with this is that is difficult to prove. Longitudinal studies would have to be undertaken to get anything like conclusive proof that what Linklater claims is indeed the case.

That doesn’t necessarily mean this isn’t true, although it might not be, but just that it has not been irrefutably dealt with in the academic literature where such things are verified and proved.

All that I have to go on is that it feels true for me – for how I feel about my own writing, and why I feel that way.

I do not think it is my formal education that has provided me with this feeling I always have when writing. After all, I have been writing for many more years than I have held my academic qualifications.

I wrote well in Secondary School, before, during and after the tutelage and encouragement of my English teachers, to whom I owe a great deal.

But apart from those wonderful people, I believe I owe much to my liking for the reciting of poetry, and now for language from almost any genre, be it monologue, prose or poetry.

It is in reciting that you come closer to the rhythm of language, and sometimes, to meanings not readily apparent in a silent reading.

The meaning of language – of words, sentences, lines in poetry or dialogue or monologue, for that matter, does not merely rest in the words lying quietly on the page. Rather, the meaning, the connotation, its place in the world, rests with the sound of those words or sentences, those lines of poetry or those lines of dialogue or monologue.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

One man’s meat: the sound of bagpipes

Listening to a kilted piper in the Lawnmarket, just down from Edinburgh’s Castle Esplanade, venue for the Tattoo every summer, I looked up to the open windows of flats high above the street, and wondered whether the people preparing dinner in them, or settling down for the evening, were as appreciative of the piper’s music as I was.

For these few short weeks, in the evenings and at weekends, we are tourists – sightseeing visitors with an eye and an ear for the unusual and the authentic. A kilted piper standing outside a shop that sells shortbread is sufficiently unusual and colourful to attract our attention, and hold it.

Those good people in the flats above most probably see the lone piper and the music he makes in a different light, but, like the constant roar from a busy main road, or the noise of people below, it is very probably ignored for most of the time. It is usually only when you feel tired or stressed that a noise annoys.

For that is how even music is often perceived when it hasn’t been chosen and can’t be turned off – as noise. Think of the thump-thump of someone’s stereo system as their car goes by, sun roof open, letting all that noise out.

If you’re walking along minding your own business, it intrudes into your space – your domain of relative peace and security. It startles you, and for a split second it annoys you. But it quickly passes – if it doesn’t – in traffic – it annoys you more and more until you are provoked into thoughts you might otherwise consider unworthy.

Music that can sound like noise to some and a melodious tune to others is a pretty fair metaphor for a lot of things that can divide people’s tastes – music is one, food is another, enjoyment another – and behaviour yet one more.

Generally speaking, the older you get, the more intolerant you are of loud music, for instance. That’s not always true though – plant me in front of a brass band pounding out something I like, and I’m happy – subject me to the thump-thump stuff and I have to move.

The older you get, the more badly behaved people annoy you – in the crowded penalty area during a crunch match though, and you’ll catch me cheering my lads on, even though their tactics are questionable at times.

Ours has become a more multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society than was the case even just a few years ago, at least that’s how it seems to me. So what I regard as normal is threatened, or doesn’t exist anymore. If I’m going to live here into my old age, and live contentedly, I’m going to have to rethink what I consider noisy, different, or not normal.

Like those flat dwellers wishing a window shut, even though it’s hot enough to leave open, to keep out the piper’s plaintive lament, I am going to have to deal with noise and start to appreciate another man’s music.

Robert L. Fielding

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Berlioz free!! This lunchtime

Cacophonous, disturbing, melodic, romantic, discordant (in patches), a friend said, ‘varied’ – and lots more adjectives could be used to describe Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Stephane Deneve.

Stephane did an impromptu few minutes – a welcome few minutes for my party of international students from the University of Strathclyde just around the corner from the magnificent Royal Concert Hall. Monsieur Deneve talked about his fellow countryman, Hector Berlioz, and what prompted him to write this wonderful piece of music.

Then we were into it, walking though meadows, dreaming of Harriet Smithson and the unrequited love Hector bore for her – the agonies of passion – putting himself through the tortures of imagining he had killed his love – marching to the scaffold, mocked by witches, in a loud and tumultuous finale. Then there was the equally tumultuous applause. It wasn't always so; early audiences were often outraged and disgusted by Berlioz' use of percussion and discord in this groundbreaking work. People would regularly stand up and shout at Berlioz as he flung himself about on the platform conducting his symphony. Later, it was to become the mountain from which composers like Mahler quarried to compose their own works. It wasn't always appreciated. It was today!

And then we were out and back along a slightly wetter looking Cathedral Street, down to the Livingstone Tower and into our classrooms.

Everybody enjoyed the experience, and for some it was their first time – the audience participation during the performance – the extended applause at the end – the walking on and off the platform by the conductor, and the repeated shows of appreciation for leader Edwin Palin, and the oboes, clarinets, brass and percussion of this great orchestra.

Robert L. Fielding