30 July 2008

My biggest book of words

Today, my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary arrived in the post. It didn't actually fit in the letterbox of course. The United States Postal Service had placed the box it came in into a massive sack as the box was coming apart due to its weight.

How exciting:

  • Two volumes, beautifully presented in a slipcase, with a ribbon and coloured endpapers, and each volume bound in quality Oxford-blue leather
  • Includes one year's access to the Oxford English Dictionary Online
  • Contains more than 600,000 words, phrases, and definitions, with coverage of language from the entire English-speaking world, from North America and the UK to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and the Caribbean
  • Contains all the vocabulary current in general English from 1700 to the present day, with senses organized chronologically, as well as earlier major literary works, including Shakespeare and the Authorized Version of the Bible
  • Fully updated with 2,500 new words and meanings based on the ongoing research programme of Oxford Dictionaries and the Oxford English Corpus
  • Draws on the latest research from the OED project including more than 4.500 antedatings and thousands of new quotations from recent writers
  • Includes a never-before-published introductory essay by David Crystal on the History of English
The ridiculous thing is that it cost about $150 on Amazon in Australian dollars and Oxford are charging 250 Pounds for it which is well over $500! The only mystery is how a used Roman bus-ticket dated 16 July 2007 ended up inside Volume 1, considering that it was brand new and still shrink wrapped. Anomalous, yet unperturbing.

I am reading a book by Simon Winchester called Bomb, Book & Compass: Joseph Needham and The Great Secrets of China. Joseph Needham was a communist, gymnosophist, Fellow of the Royal Society and the British Academy. He wrote millions of words on China's past scientific achievements. The funny part is when his peers at Cambridge describe him as 'eccentric' - practically a compliment; but also slightly 'unsound' - the worst pejorative available in such circles. Entertaining. The book doesn't answer why China's economic and technological growth stalled as the Renaissance was kicking off in the West. This was "Needham's Grand Question," and the jury is still out as to whether he managed to answer it.

Sumangali has been reminicsing recently about her time in China.

I thought I would give this book a go because I greatly enjoyed The Surgeon of Crowthorne. There is something particularly mad about the madness of Englishmen. I like that, you can quote me if you want.

Last Wednesday a friend revealed anthimeria to me. It is using words the wrong way. Shakespeare invented a few words that way as the link shows. A more contemporary example is Calvin telling Hobbes, "You are weirding me out." That's because weird is an adjective not a verb. It is hard to think of an example, perhaps, "I flummoxed down the road." Except that flummox is already a verb.

The next day I attended a course on Parliamentary Writing. My attempts to start a discussion about anthimeria fell on largely deaf minds; but I did learn that concatenation is bad writing. It means lumping verbs together unnecessarily, e.g. 'it is necessary to make a determination' is better as 'it is necessary to determine.' 'Give consideration to' should be 'consider.' The '-ion' is the giveaway. It is a real hallmark of turgid bureaucratese. Okay, the word turgid is more or less redundant in the previous sentence, but, "I turgided the answer," is pure anthimeria.

Good writing should do two things: be enjoyable and convince.

If I had my own Grand Question, what would it be I wonder?

Either "What's for dinner?" or "Why is it so hard to get an early night?"

07 July 2008

μητέρα μου

I read up on the (sacred?) mystery of the ABBA at The Independent. I have never been much of a fan, but this article is totally to blame for me listening to the song below ten times. It is such a rollicking tune, but the lyrics are so full of pathos, which is what the article is about.



Also reading The Age of The Warrior: Selected Writings by Robert Fisk. For a book on the Middle East, I am proud to have got half way through it. It gets a bit depressing for obvious reasons, but being a collection of newspaper articles is very approachable.

Waiting to read Peter Pan, after seeing it discussed on The First Tuesday Book Club recently.

I really enjoyed watching The Hollowmen the other night. If you check it out, you will see what Canberra looks like, at least in the credits. Interestingly, The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot was my favourite poem in my final year of high school. I was a little more maudlin in those days.

Since I started keeping a note book of new words that I meet, I have been very interested in Greek. It appears to have contributed as much to the English language as Latin. For instance, psephology - the study of elections and voting trends comes from psephos which is Greek for pebble, because the Ancient Greeks used little rocks to cast their vote. Cool. It was only invented in 1952. Plutocracy, ploutokratia, ploutos meaning wealth, kratos meaning strength, therefore rule by the wealthy or elites.

It makes sense. My family come from Campania which was kicked off by the Greeks before the Romans moved in, after which the Turks had a bit of a go too. Now the region is dominated by waste. I will have to get back there and visit the relatives eventually, although they tend to drunkenly stand around belting out vaguely misogynistic folk songs. (I've seen the videos.) And they tend to feud across continents about the size of telephone bills.

01 July 2008

Happy Snappy

This is me and Leo, my sister's new dog. He is a spoodle. I think they should have called him Sooty. I don't care what colour he is.


This is me and my niece, Rachel. She is nearly one.


This is my sister, Dianna.


Here is the birthday boy, Tejaswi, with his nephew, Eli.


These are my photos.