Category: language

ON WRITING – A MEMOIR by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton, 2000)

Instead of a book, this could easily have been a post on Facebook by his wife Tabby on why Stephen King would never write again.

It was finished as part of the recuperation following horrific injuries King sustained after being hit by a truck while walking near his home.

It takes King an average of three months to write the first draft of a novel. This ‘manual’ was only half finished after 18 months and its completion is a testament to his determination and love of the art and craft of writing. Continue reading

Image based on the top 30 words used in songs based on 1 million recordings.

In this year’s  BBC John Peel lecture, Brian Eno said that one of the failings of modern-day music critics is that they pay too much attention to song lyrics. As part of Roxy Music, Eno played on two of the greatest pop singles of all time – Virginia Plain and Pyjamarama – where the words add to the atmosphere but when considered apart from the music are ,at best, enigmatic, at worst, plain jibberish.

Even when songs do have an obvious meaning or tell a story, they should not be viewed in the same way as poems or works of fiction. This is why the ‘Rock In Translation’ slot of Italy’s Virgin Radio makes for such a torturous listening experience. On this, a woman earnestly reads the translated lyrics to popular tunes as though she were helping to impart some meaningful insight into the human condition. Lines in the vein of “come on baby rock me all night long” are rendered into Italian as though they were some kind of profound comments on the nature of loving relationships. Continue reading

In 2005, the late lamented David Foster Wallace made a memorable speech to graduating students of Kenyon College which was posthumously published under the title This Is Water.
A few years back, inspired by this, I decided to make my own humble address at the end of an advanced English language course in Italy which I called my ‘Where do we go from here?’ lesson.
Today, I found my notes and decided to post it here (complete with DFW style asides in italics).
It comes over as much more pretentious and self-conscious I think but I delivered it with the best of intentions, hoping  to end the course on a thoughtful note rather than a lame ‘goodbye and good luck’ message.
Anyway, here it is warts and all (comments welcome):

Nowadays, it’s common to hear people talking about life-long learning.

[I ask who has heard of the phrase ‘lifelong learning’ – nobody has!]

One time, there was the mistaken idea that when you finished school or university, your official period of learning was finished – your next goal was to find work and earn a good salary. But learning is not a finite thing.  In a very real sense it never ends. Continue reading

tears-of-joy-emojiQuestion : When is a word not a word?
Answer : When it’s a pictograph.

This is not a joke and it makes the  Oxford English Dictionary’s decision to name the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji as this year’s word of the year a very odd one indeed.

A more logical move would have been to give the title to ’emoji’ , a  word borrowed from Japanese to denote   ‘a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication’.

The key word in this definition is ‘image‘. Unless Oxford University Press (OUP) have plans to turn their dictionary into a picture book it’s hard to fully understand the reasoning behind this.

Casper Grothwahl, the President of the Dictionaries Division highlights that these staples of teen texting culture have now entered the mainstream and therefore that there was a need to acknowledge what he calls this  “obsessively immediate” form of communication.

More and more reference books now exist primarily in a digital format with embedded videos and suchlike. This obviously reflects the way we consume information but a distinction should still be made between  language we use (i.e. words) and their visual equivalents.

Oxford Dictionary wants to be seen as an up to date resource rather than as a dusty repository of dead or dying language but I think they’ve made a dumb call here.



Original  Coca Cola image designed by Karina Nurdinova based on Bank’s letter.

My ‘Ads Are Not Innocent‘ poem in yesterday’s post was inspired by Banksy’s Letter On Advertising.

This was in turn inspired by Sean Tejaratchi’s 1999 essay, ‘Reciprocity In Theory And Practice’ which appeared in issue 1 (Death, Phones, Scissors) of Tejaratchi’s clip art zine Crap Hound.

The similarities are obvious. For instance, the American wrote “Why should I ask an assailant’s permission to keep a rock he’s just thrown at my head” while Banksy’s version reads: “Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head”.

Given that the thrust of the two men’s argument is that whatever is in the public domain is free to use and manipulate, the plagiarism by Banksy is ironic bit is no crime.

His ‘borrowing’ of Tejaratchi’s words is graciously put into context in a ‘let’s set the records straight’ statement.


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