Sunday, 29 November 2015

Wordsmiths and trying to walk tables

Anyone who has dropped in here before will be aware of my fondness for words.

Discombobulated for example. We thought we were going for a walk but now we appear to be taking the table and a chair with us

This Walking the Dog blog is an excuse to play with words. I love words - always - they run around inside my head playing hopscotch over each other, jostling until one wins, seizes the microphone and broadcasts itself as my ear-worm word of the day. Perhaps, this inner-ear perseveration - or personal juke box rolling over on repeat spitting out the same word again and again - is some form of obsessive compulsive disorder? Or a sign of incipient madness? Or maybe it's utterly normal for those who strive to be wordsmiths?

From Discombobulated on 7th November 2011 to Floccinaucinihilipilification on 16 March 2015, via Curmudgeonly (8/11/11) and Dreich, drookit and mauchit (20/1/12), I have written about, taken inspiration from and generally enjoyed playing with a motley and largely forgotten, ignored or frankly shunned-into-silence, sent-to-Coventry, and unrecognised-by-spell-checker vocabulary. Within my family, dreich is popular - onomatopoeic, with a forceful slide down into a world of gloom before it lands in a throat-clearing, blustery puddle - it inserts itself damply into our chatter during holidays in Scotland. I love curmudgeonly. I think it, or its noun, a lot. I say it less frequently. That would be rude. But saying it to yourself is secretly satisfying, cathartic and empowering even - it's surprising how much emotion can be muttered under your breath. I put such weight on the sound and shape and historical provenance and hidden meanings of words that I may end up accused of being an anti-floccinaucinihilipilificatrix. Huh!

Have you ever wondered where words come from? Who invented them? How, having been inserted into an individual's vocabulary for the first time, were they noticed by others, propagated and finally accepted by everyone as everyday language?

Shakespeare was famous for his invention of words. Or did he hear them in the street and hijack them for himself, merely adopting the role of seed sewer; scattering and propagating new(-ish) words across the pages of his plays? Words first attributed to him and still used today include gloomy, generous, swagger, zany, obscene, dwindle, fashionable, eyesore, assassination, rant and incredibly over 1000 more. Shakespeare, as wordsmith, was prolific but not alone - Dickens gave us boredom and snobbish; Milton invented Pandemonium; Lewis Carroll conjured up chortle; Dr Seuss introduced the nerd and where would we be without Chaucer's twitter? Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins would still have their noses on the ground - guzzling ground fall apples.

Guzzle incidentally first cropped up in the mid 1500s  and was used to good effect by a satirist named Tom Brown. It was probably derived from a French word, as too, were many of Shakespeare's new words. It was a time of change in English society with increased trade, travel and migration - the anglification of foreign words was perhaps inevitable. Maybe first occurring by mistake; with the better mistakes being picked up, run with and eventually adopted.

New words can also crop up when a noun is changed to a verb or a verb to a noun or in the case of blog becomes both noun and verb (the noun in this case appearing first).

Apart from Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky with its slithy toves, mimsy borogoves and mome raths (... spell-checker knows slithy, mimsy and borogoves!) few words are truly invented. The light bulb moment, if it exists at all, is dependent on what went before - where the mistake, corruption or word-blending came from. A traceable evolution of originality, perhaps?

Before you mutter for goodness sake and contemplate pushing exit to make me vanish into thin air, I wish to suggest that there is method in my madness (three colloquialisms attributed to Shakespeare in one contrived sentence) for here I play with words and I post pictures of my dogs for the entertainment of who - myself; yes, you; hopefully. And all of a sudden (four!) I find I'm at the end. Nearly ...

Back briefly to Four-Legged-Friend and Bertie Baggins - their interest in words extends only as far as dinner, walk and out. Bertie responds to Bertie but also to Freddie, Harry and Charlie when said with the same intonation and upswing at the end. Four-Legged-Friend isn't actually called Four-Legged-Friend and I doubt he would move if addressed as such. He moves only when he has to. Or when he has sensed the faintest whiff of something edible.

P.S. Recombobulation was achieved after unhitching of leads and the walk accomplished without the addition of eight extra (rather heavy and inflexible) legs.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The whens, whys, hows and wheres of a good life.

Whatever pithy sayings are said about life - the clever, inspiring quotes you read, try to remember and promptly forget - and whatever happens along life's way; eventually, it's how you live it that matters. This how is the essence of a good life.

Kids live for the moment. Life is good. Responsibilities if they exist are to themselves. Theirs is a life of when - when will I grow up; when can we get a dog; when will the toothfairy remember to come; when will I be tall enough for that ride at the theme park; when can I have another ice-cream; when can I start wearing make-up; when can I have my ears pierced; when are you collecting me from the party - not that early!; when can I have an allowance and when can I go to London on my own?

Teens live in the moment - anything beyond that moment is not worthy of their attention - exams, what exams; alarm clocks are for losers; ditto baths; alcohol is all about the pre-loading before the party; the party is about getting wasted before your friends; and parents are, well, just the people you grunt at, whose food you eat and whose home you liberally sprinkle with discarded items of clothing.

With late teens and early 20s comes the whys - why didn't I work harder at school; why did she get the job I wanted; why can't I have a car; why when I work my guts out doesn't the boss notice ... actually this is all sounding a bit negative ... it's more about the why can't I afford a house; why are all landlords money-pinching morons; why did my best friend think it would be sensible to have her hen night in San Tropez and expand it into a long weekend meaning that I now can't afford a holiday ... Still too negative? Sorry. More positive whys would include ... why is everyone so obsessed with who should be the next Bond when clearly it should be Rupert Friend, but nobody else seems to have considered him; and why waste caffeine in shampoo?

The hows arrive with middle age and are all about lifestyle and planning. Answering them well will secure a good life - how do we fit children into our work-life balance; how do I say yes to my cousin's wedding when I'd really like to go to the cricket; how do I get myself out of the pickle of having claimed work commitments, when I was seen at the cricket; how do I remember my passwords; how do you get Father Christmas's letter to actually go up the chimney without setting the house on fire; how do you carve a turkey; how do you remember birthdays; how do you choose a builder; how do you persuade her that a grey kitchen would be horrible without saying that it would be horrible; how do you service a lawnmower; how do you interview a nanny; how do you decide where to go on holiday and then tell your in-laws that they can't come after all; how do you do that face that tells her she looks beautiful when your eyes are looking at the extra stuffing round her middle; how do you cope with your midlife crisis and how do you look like you know what your children are talking about when they mention whatsapp, snapchat and pinterest? How do you slide effortlessly and without regret from knowing to pretending?

With old age come the wheres - where are my glasses; where did I leave my trousers; where are all my friends; where am I; and where did all the years go?

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Je suis

On the 10th January this year,  I wrote a blog posting, titled Charlie, and started it with these words - 'When the outside world dips its toe into our lives, sometimes the ripples are impossible to ignore.'

Now, yet again the ripples wash against the feet of us all.
Yet again - unbelievably - Paris has been brutally attacked.
Yet again brain-numbing atrocity trespasses into our lives.
Yet again the world outside our homes cannot be ignored.

And that, I think, is the point - our homes: those places where we feel safe. Our homes, where terrorism should not dip its dirty fingers, but does - on our TV screens, radios, laptops and newspapers. Our homes, where we can believe and live and enjoy whatever books or music or film or TV series or sport we like. Simply because we are free. Yes, we dream of better things. But we can dream because we are free.

We forget at our peril how fortunate we are to have this freedom. In the free West. To feel safe. To live in a place that we call home and that we have always called home. It is a privilege denied to much of the world's population.

I believe it is impossible to understand the whys of the terrible acts in Paris. To do so would be to look into the mind of a monster. Perhaps, it is better to focus on how it can be stopped.

We must not, in essence, let these tigers that come at night, tear our hope apart.

As I wrote in January, I despise the monotheistic prejudice that turns men against other men. I crave a world where respect and acceptance are the pillars of theism. A world in which all are taught not to believe in just one God, but to accept that there may be many Gods and to recognise that there are people who believe not only in many different Gods, but also some like me who believe in none at all. Perhaps education is the key. But it is arrogant to think that it is a western-style of education that is the key. Teaching, by whatever means, mutual respect - Fraternite, if you like - acceptance of other cultures and an equality of opportunity would get closer to bolstering the foundation of our cherished freedom. Freedom achieved in this way should equal peace. I hope it is achievable. I hope it does.

In January, I wrote that the attackers failed to recognise the power of the pen. Their atrocious acts gave more voice to the satire of Charlie Hebdo than the cartoonists ever dreamt possible. Imagery in whatever form is supreme in most cultures. It always has been. Nothing else has the same power to move, to extract instant emotion and immediately dissipate global recognition. One image can alter history. From Banksy to Uderzo, artists across the world created powerful new images in defiance of the barbaric attack on Charlie Hebdo. Now images again stand in defiance against the terrorists - the tricolour on numerous iconic buildings from Sydney Opera House to the London Eye, and the international emblem of peace superimposed with an Eiffel Tower. Behind all these images is the message that united we stand against the terrorists. If we let fear into our lives and the terrorists divide us, then we will fall.

In the face of such barbarity, I don't have any solution but to plod on. To be tolerant and just a little brave. A knot ties itself tight in my stomach because I face travelling to London and Paris in the next few weeks. It's an uncomfortable feeling not knowing where the next attack might be. Not knowing how to keep my children safe. Not knowing how not to be scared.  I took inspiration when I wrote in January from Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, two climbers who were making a free-climb attempt on the Dawn Wall in California - insignificant and a little ridiculous in the face of everything else going on in the world? Yes, but their self-belief and perseverance in the face of pretty extreme discomfort, I thought illustrated the resilience of the human spirit. Fingers ripped to shreds and contemplating defeat, Tommy Caldwell said, "I'm not giving up. I will rest. I will try again. I will succeed." He did. We should do the same - not give up on freedom, never rest where freedom is threatened, try again to believe that life can be better. And never give up believing in the goodness of humanity. Those that committed these awful acts are less than human.

 'Nous sommes tous Parisiens.'