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Writer’s Quote Wednesday

Welcome to my first Writer’s Quote Wednesday.

I encountered Wang’s site for the first time today, but those words just filled my heart, as I’ve been struggling with imposter syndrome lately. My advise to all the writers following the Dictionary Project: keep making what you’re making; it’s worth it.

Come back next Wednesday for more quotes.

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Home… Soil… Rain…

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This is not exactly free association, but I’ve been inspired by the daily prompt to riff on home, soil, and rain with some Victorian words for you, as I look out my window and see nothing but snow.

Home played an integral role in Victorian culture. Victorian morality was built and maintained at home, and the home was presided over by those domestic angels, the wife and mother. ‘Householdy’ and ‘householdness’ were used the way millennials use ‘random’ and ‘addicting’ to describe things that aren’t random, or addictive, at all. (On a side note, ‘addictive’ is an adjective; if you put the suffix ‘ing’ on a word, it’s a verb.)

Boarding_house

In mid-nineteenth century American slang, a ‘drum’ was a house that was not a home, like a boarding house, or some other place that you slept regularly, but didn’t feel at home.

‘Home,’ in the larger sense of the word, isn’t just your house, but your town. ‘Ham’ was a Victorian abbreviation of ‘hamlet,’ and was recognized as meaning such as the suffix of popular surnames, like ‘Billingham.’ Around the time of the Boer War, the term ‘stad,’ with its Dutch roots, also increasingly referred to the town someone was from in English.

‘Soil’ also has feminine connotations because things grow inside Mother Earth. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest recorded use of the term ‘Mother Earth’ refers to ‘her’ reproductive qualities.

“And all the while in bellie of His mother Earth it lies, The want of humour in the seede The moistie soile supplies.” – Mancinus & Dominicus, “The Plaine Path to Perfect Vertue,” 1568.

Doesn’t the Earth have enough problems without us throwing gender on it and debating its reproductive rights? Sometimes soil is just dirt.

It needs rain, which the Victorians enjoyed referring to as ‘waterworks,’ as in “The fireworks were put out by the waterworks.” Though, colloquially, that just makes us think of tears. When miserable people love company, our fireworks are extinguished by their waterworks.

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Serenity through the ambiguity of language

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Serenity‘ is an old word –  even for this dictionary. It dates back to 1525. It’s been spelled ‘serenyte,’ ‘serenitie,’ and ‘serenity.’ Someone once told me that they thought it meant peace. I think of it as a decadent kind of peacefulness, in which you can read and really listen to the words in your head.

“How can one be a quietist in London? I never get a moment’s real quiet. This morning I went to St Barnabas and thought I should be quiet there but carpenters came in and sawed wood until I went away.” – Constance Wilde, quoted in Frany Moyle, “Constance: the Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde,” (2014).

Typical of her time, Constance Wilde explored spirituality and meditation with a passion, she was looking for peace of mind to ease her poor health. Quietism seemed to me the greatest quest for serenity.

Quietism is a form of Christian worship, in which one seeks to become one with the divine. It is a form of meditation, thought to bring you closer to God.

Quietist philosophers view the discipline as broadly therapeutic or remedial, and feel that philosophy’s value is in resolving logical problems in other subjects, including other branches of philosophy. Intellectual quietude can be attained by resolving confusion of thought. Much of this confusion can be resolved through ascertaining the meaning of words, and the use of language. Quietist philosophers sought to attain a state of intellectual enlightenment by resolving thought and language problems.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

This lead to Ordinary Language Philosophy, which sought to make language unambiguous. If only language could be clear and straightforward, they thought, then so many philosophical problems would be resolved. To them, philosophical problems were created when we forget what words mean.

This phenomenon of forgetting the meaning of words is one I am familiar with, but it is one of the greatest sources of serenity in my life. I deeply empathize with Constance Wilde’s quest for quiet, and share in many of her physical challenges, but I seek something very different. I adore ambiguous words, like ‘twitterly,’ a mid-nineteenth century synonym for feebly that implies that you have all the strength to offer of a weak little bird. Few people reading that word today will understand what it meant in 1846. It recalls tweets, girlishness, chatter, and fluttering about.

As a reader, I love finding a well-crafted sentence that provides so many layers of meaning. I’ve also spent entirely too much time thinking and writing about the etymology of a dunce to not finish this project.

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Propaedeutic Cyborgs, or Why I Wish James Harbeck Wrote Victorian Fiction

A word isn’t much good if it can only mean one thing at a time. – James Harbeck

James Harbeck is a blogger I admire. We share an interest in language, and I think he’s better at it than I am.

I strive to give words character, but he effortlessly cooks them up, infusing them with flavours, and smells. ‘Propaedeutic‘ tastes like Donna Haraway’s Manifesto of the Cyborg, and smells like the university campus where I first read her. My language is populated with ruffians, like the people in the pub on that campus.

To be propaedeutic is to be very cursory, but, as Harbeck points out, using this word will make you sound professorial in the way my old roommate hated. Use of the word, ‘propaedeutic,’ is for those who have been exercising their use of English words for a very long time. ‘Cursory’ even sounds a little heuty teuty. Use the word ‘superficial’ and you will sound more judgmental, and less worthy of harsh judgement.  Use a string of other words that basically mean the same thing, and you will sound like a noob, or in Victorian:

newie n. (1856) a noob

I wrote about being new to English yesterday. Newie-ness brings fresh eyes on an old conversation. Fresh perspectives make language interesting.

Though he might be a better writer and I admire him so, Harbeck isn’t better than me (I tell myself); we serve different lexicographical purposes. As I’ve been told in my Blogging 101 course, my lexicographical purpose is strange. It’s like I’m building a time machine, so that I can take writers back over 115 years and introduce them to their verbal ancestors.

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I’ve been treating words like characters because my role is to introduce them to you, so that you (all of you wonderfully talented Harbecks) can reintroduce them to the reading public with all of their multiple meanings and flavours. It is exactly because I admire other people’s writing so much that it is so important to me to finish the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties.

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Falling in Love with Words

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Generally speaking, the word shows up in print after it is coined, not before, though we cannot discount the existence of a band of time-traveling linguistic trolls who have an inexplicable love of Lionel Barrymore. – Kory Stamper

I’m browsing other blogs today, as per the instructions of Blogging 101, while I wait for texts from my beloved 21 year-old only child, who is travelling back to Vancouver by air. It’s a pleasant way to pass the time, while I excessively worry about someone who is old enough and responsible enough to take care of themselves. The writers on WordPress have some wonderful things to say about words, and I think harm-less drudg-ery will quickly become one of my favourites. Stamper has a concise way of saying things I’ve been thinking about for a while.

But language is not a political system you can overthrow; it’s personal. Slur reclamation is risky business for both the oppressed, the oppressor, and the lexicographer. – Kory Stamper

That is exactly why I won’t be able to leave the offensive words out of the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties, though I’ve always thought of myself as more of a lexophile. After I began my other blog, I quickly realized that I wasn’t the only one obsessed with Writers in London in the 1890s. I feel that is finally beginning to happen with the Dictionary Project.

Look at the blog. Sequiotica. I love what she has to say about thimbles.

The word thimble is also useful for making puns; in particular, thimble-minded suggests itself readily, though you probably won’t get to use it too often. It also has a taste of nimble (thimble-fingered?) and humble (thimblebrag?) and of course symbol (sex thimble?). – Sequiotica

And people who love words like talking about bad words because, in that context, we get to use them without the terrible consequences. Just look at the video for the Dictionary Project. Now look at this post on so long as it’s words.

At that time fuck was a word used to describe sex. It wasn’t used as a swearword as we’d use it today. So the ‘fucking’ here is probably being used literally: ‘Oh, that abbot who fucks a lot’. (Someone has tried to find evidence of this but the worst they could find was one pregnant nun nearby who may, or may not, have been shagged by the Abbot. If he WAS trying for Casanova’s record, he kept it quiet). – Kate Wiles

I love the naughty playful tone lexophiles take when discussing dirty words, love, love, love, love it!

So I’ve followed at least five of these today. I’ll be checking my Reader more often now. Thank you Blogging 101.

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