Monday, August 12, 2013

Integrating books and technolog

Fifteen or twenty years ago, when teens I loved graduated, including mine, I gave them a Webster's Dictionary and a Thesaurus. They would need it in college. Today, not many vestiges of those books remain.

Probably should be. When I started in journalism in 1965, I noted the really aging music critic knew many four and five-syllable words I did not know, and I was intimidated, having formerly been proud of my vocabulary. You can say those words are archaic. Many are. But when our forbears used them, it gave an exactitude to nuance, opinion, and degree of importance not many words do today. A parsity that was very fine about exact meaning. Is it pictures? Do they, and videos, actually show us what we feel without the words to define it?

I will always like egregious more than "it sucks".

We are dumbing down language. It isn't innocuous, this dumbing down, loss of grammar and ability to parse. This year I was stunned when fifth graders--smart ones--asked me what it meant when the Bible said Jesus wept. (Guess that won't be one of their profanities.) I don't know if they knew the verb to weep. They certainly didn't know the past tense,"wept."

I explained it meant he was crying. One boy said in exasperation, "Then why doesn't it say Jesus cried?"

Because there is a nuance to weeping that is not in crying. And I don't know if they will learn it. It scares me if they are not learning this.

About 30 years ago, I interviewed an amazing, cutting edge theoretical mathematician loaned from MIT to the University of North Texas for a semester. He was intense about language, vocabulary and multiple languages.

He said the further a mathematician could go in more exacting words and other spoken languages, the further he or she could go in theoretical science because his imagination would be expanded. To think beyond, he said, even mathematicians need the vocabulary to think abstractly.

I am upset when novelists say he "laid down to sleep" but I blame the editors more. In fact, sometimes, I suspect some are young editors who change right to wrong.

My computer remains a part of my life as I read, and as archaic as I sometimes seem to be, synchronicity occurs.

Finishing Barbara Delinski's "Sweet Salt Air" a couple of days ago, I looked up "sarconyot", a cream sauce I had never heard of and now long to try. Her characters ate it with wild organic strawberries. And having eaten those, I remember the taste. It isn't one you forget. So I have taste memory as well.

I am starting a book by Catherine Coulson where a character said her opera-singing grandmother used to rub her hands at bedtime and sing Madam Butterfly's "Un Bel Di".
I don't know if it would have put me to sleep, but if it were my grandmother ('were' still exists in some lexicons), if she sang it often and rubbed my hands, I might well sleep indeed. And I listened to Maria Callas singing this before I have continued.

When I read of places I haven't been, before I continue, I am apt to Google and make a visual tourist journey before I complete the chapter. But only I know where I have been and what I want to see. I do NOT want commercials now intersperced in my reading by um idiots, not the word I want.

God knows, I don't want some techie saying that interfacing must be mandatory. A lot of people have read both books without needing to look this up. This way is pleasant. Freedom exists.

Writers bring different senses into what they write, but with memory, and the internet, the reader now has a whole new spectrum of response.


JPG said...

Your current post is precisely on target for me. In the past few days I've had two short discussions about how valuable is a good vocabulary, and being able to choose a word with the exact nuance desired in a given situation.

But how it it that so many otherwise valuable individuals will mildly scoff at my "fancy talkin'? It is always a pleasure to just have a nice discussion in company where one doesn't need to dumb down our mode of expression.

charlotte g said...

I am not sure many people understand that words are tools for precise presentation. As a matter of fact, I think the appreciation of the tools of grammar and vocabulary are sinking. You worked in law enforcement and I in social work. We dumbed down for the public, but I was frustrated once when a supervisor refused to let me use a precise word because she said the client wouldn't understand it. I was writing for the judge and the attorneys, as you know. Point was, SHE didn't know what I meant.

charlotte g said...

I should add the caveat, which is true: she was the exception to some mighty smart supervisors over the years.