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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.)

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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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Five of the Best Short Antique Movies You’ll Ever See

It’s Friday, we all need a break. Here are my favourite short YouTube videos on the late-Victorian/Edwardian Era.

1. The Ballad of Bess Houdini by Paul Vickers and The Leg: a music video about the wife of Harry Houdini. This one is not an antique, but it is one of my favourites.

2. Vancouver Street Scenes, 1907. It’s like someone got hold of a smart phone in 1907, and hopped a street car.

3. The May-Irwin Kiss, 1896. This 21-second video was the first romantic movie ever made!

4. Eugen Sandow, 1894. If you don’t know who Eugen Sandow is, check him out on my other blog.

And finally,

5. The first American science-fiction movie, A Trip to Mars, 1910.

Have a great weekend!

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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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English is Strange

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English is strange. Communicating through letters on a screen is strange too. Eventually, if my words are lucky, they will make it to the printed page, where readers can be alone with them.

Reading other people’s words on this screen leads me to the bottom of the virtual page, where little white boxes tempt me to tell other writers what I think of their words. Today’s assignment was to give into temptation four times.

leave a thoughtful comment

This assignment took much longer than I expected.

I fell in love with a phrase:

the lexically luxuriant luminary – sesquiotica

In the end, I remembered that just because a comment is long and well-written doesn’t mean it was well-considered. My last comment was probably the most thoughtful, and it was only three sentences long. The original post reminded me of the members of my family who still struggle to conjugate sentences in English, though it was beautifully written.

My Dutch grandmother reads faster than I do and recreationally more often, but is reluctant to write a letter in English. Yet, she has uttered some of the wisest most beautiful strings of English words I have ever heard – all in an accent.

Past versions of English are strange, but I want them to be fun. That is why I write about making up your own Victorian colloquialisms. There’s playfulness in the art of writing Victorian dialogue in the twenty-first century. That’s why I am writing the dictionary. The more we understand the words, the stranger they become.

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Dear Historical Fiction Author

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We write historical fiction because it is easy to relate to situations from the past. Stories set in the past, whether closely related to something that actually happened, or not, speak to the present. Moreover, we tell our stories from the present. Feelings are timeless.

The human experience is timeless. In writing my novel, I related to my protagonist’s frustration with her love interest’s refusal to show as much interest in her as he had previously. The feeling I thought my readers could relate to was akin to waiting for a text message. The post was the 1890s equivalent to contemporary text messages. To convey the feeling correctly, I transposed that sense of frustration from repeatedly checking your iPhone to repeatedly checking the mail. The post came more frequently in 1890s London, so it was easier than I imagined, and I was happy with the result.

I want to help you tell your story. I don’t think I am better at telling stories than you are. You may have written more than I have, but I’ve been researching the Victorian era for over two years now.

My dictionary is much more than a collection of words. Words have contexts. The word ‘anthropoid’ carried different connotations in the latter part of the nineteenth century than it had in the first. ‘Deadlily’ sounds like a dead flower, but conveyed the sense of something more like a zombie to Victorians. These words provide layers of meaning. Some (not al) of your readers will get that and it will add richness to your text.

These words can also be fun and very specific.

I’m not creating this dictionary to make money. I would like to give it away for free as much as I possibly can. I would like to find ways for relevant historical society’s to use it as a fundraising tool. I want to help you write your stories. I want to hear your questions and feedback. If I can’t answer your questions, I will probably be able to find someone who can.

As I’ve been blogging about my research, and asking the internet my own questions, I’ve found support from academics and researchers all over the world, who have shared source material with me that I wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else. I want to give back. If you are anything like me, you are my ideal reader.

Find me on Twitter @TinyApplePress

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.