a blank slate

a blank slate

Tag: language

Loving books… all over again!

Do you remember the first book you read? Or the first book you read in just a day? The first story book I remember reading as a kid was called Mickey’s Christmas Carol (Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, only with Disney’s characters. Very cute.) And then, I remember the first actual mystery book I read. It was from the Five Find-Outers series by Enid Blyton, called the The Mystery of the Hidden House. There is no “I saw it across a crowded bookshelf” story to go with it; just a simple my sister forced me to read it. It was love at first read, though.

People who read books armed with dictionaries and all that to learn new words are crazy. Then again, the best part about reading books in a new language for the first time, is the fun of understanding new polysyllabic words all by yourself! I remember feeling quite elated whenever I discovered a new word and pompously showing it off in class. Oh, come on, everyone’s done that. As you read that first book, you feel yourself getting more and more involved with every line and with every word, the writing style seems more familiar. Before you know it, you are deeply immersed in the book, loyally chuckling at all the typical jokes and running gags.

I knew I loved reading when the back of a packet of chips seemed like an interesting dinner table read. But I never actually realized how amazing it felt to be able to read! To read a thousand pages at one go and look back, totally exhausted and happy! Every new book you read is a wonderful experience, true; but nothing can beat those fine first memories.

Unless you get to do it once again, with an all new language. I read my first real German novel the other day. I could write about the book and how great it was, but that is really not the point! I enjoy reading books even now, obviously. As I read that book, though, I realized with horror and pain that reading has become sort of an ordinary habit now. Well, I intend to change that. I loved learning German, for the words and the grammar and the lovely feeling of being better at it than most people; but I never really experienced it. As I held that little German novel in my hands, I knew it was worth learning a new language just to experience that first-book-excitement, all over again.

Too highfalutin for my palate!

“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed.”

– Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)

I couldn’t agree more. Unless it is absolutely essential for you to write a word that most people would need a dictionary to understand, you’re only dressing up your language. And by absolutely necessary, I mean, when there is no other word in the English language that conveys exactly what you’re trying to convey.

If you’re one of those people, who insert big words in their writing and convince themselves that those few words show what a wonderful writing style they have, allow me to tell you it that doesn’t work that way. The only thing it does show, is how incredibly ordinary the rest of the writing is!

Don’t use words like ‘perspicuity’ where a simple ‘clarity’ would suffice, and I won’t call your language ‘magniloquent’ when I can just call it ‘pretentious’.

Does a cow really say “Moo”?

Last night I found out that when German cats purr, they are actually “schnurr”-ing. That got me wondering what animals from the rest of the world say!

I can now say “woof woof” in ten languages. If I were in Japan (and if I were a dog), I’d say “wang wang”. Actually, come to think about it, I’d rather not. Let’s just see what the dogs say. In Spain and Greece, they say “guau guau” – it’s rather fascinating to imagine a dog pronounce a “g”. In India, dogs say “bhoo bhoo”, which sounds kind of like those American dogs that go “bow wow”. Korean dogs, apparently say “mung mung”.
When I was a kid, I always wondered why on earth an English-speaking rooster says “Cockadoodledoo”! That too, when our Indian roosters get away with saying an easy: “kukoochukoo”. It sounds so much more like a bird, anyway. The German rooster says “kikireki”, and the French apparently says “cocorico”. Either way, it is highly unlikely for a rooster to be able to pronounce “doodle”.
Anyway. I have to go out. Bye! Or… in the words of an Australian bird (that only has us to thank for its crazy name), “Currawong”!

The Awful German Language

“The inventor of the language seems to have taken pleasure in complicating it in every way he could think of.”

“The Awful German Language” is the most outrageously funny essay I’ve read in a long time. It was written in 1880 by Mark Twain as a part of the book “A Tramp Abroad.”

As an English speaking person learning German as a second language, he explains his exasperation with the language using a bunch of wildly amusing examples. Personally, German being pretty similar to my mother tongue, it wasn’t hard getting used to most of the rules; I can only imagine how complicated it otherwise must be.

The worst are, of course, the genders of the common nouns and Twain has a lot to say about them:

  • To continue with the German genders: a tree is male, its buds are female, its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are female – tomcats included, of course; a person’s mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the sex of the individual who wears it.

The longest English word has forty five letters and no one bothers using it!! That’s more than you can say for most German words!

  • Some German words are so long that they have a perspective. These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions. And they are not rare; one can open a German newspaper at any time and see them marching majestically across the page – and if he has any imagination he can see the banners and hear the music, too. They impart a martial thrill to the meekest subject. Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen” seems to be “General-states-representatives-meetings,” as nearly as I can get at it – a mere rhythmical, gushy euphuism for “meetings of the legislature,” I judge.
It’s not just the words that seem to irritate the writer, it is also the names! This incident had me laughing for an hour:

  • German names almost always do mean something, and this helps to deceive the student. I translated a passage one day, which said that “the infuriated tigress broke loose and utterly ate up the unfortunate fir forest” (Tannenwald). When I was girding up my loins to doubt this, I found out that Tannenwald in this instance was a man’s name.

The writer doesn’t stop at calling German language ridiculous – he does suggest ways to improve it. One of these includes removing the Dative case entirely!!

  • Personal pronouns are a fruitful nuisance in this language, and should have been left out. For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them. Think of the exasperation of never knowing which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says sie to me, I generally try to kill him, if a stranger.

Of course, this essay is pretty biased, because English is basically built on exceptions and German rarely strays from the rules, making it much easier to learn! Still, I loved it. And I’m sure anyone who has ever learnt German as a second language will agree with every single thing Mr. Twain has to say!!

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

The mirror exclaimed in quite a boisterous voice, “You know, there’s just one word for your zany spectacles: UGLY”.

I know, anthropomorphic much? Just a sentence I was trying out, a pangram (a sentence containing all the letters of the alphabet) actually! I guess I should work on the part where you have to use minimum letters.

So, this is the thing my mirror is referring to:

I notice my reflection in the mirror. It reminds me of those times, when I wore those specs of mine.
I definitely don’t miss putting on those specs. It’s not been long since I took them off. The ones which I’ve worn since forever! Not genuine specs but pretend specs.
They modified my thought. I often tended to see things differently. I used to judge people, form stereotypes. But I see now how it’s wrong.
I did numerous things these recent couple of months which helped me see the ‘true truth’, unlike my own “beliefs”. Some things I wouldn’t commit to liking turned out to be pretty wonderful. Books, movies, not to mention, writing blogs! This surely delighted me.
So, now my specs? Yes, they’re off for good.

Wow. That was anything but easy. Although, ‘fun’ is definitely one of the things it was. Notice anything different? No ‘a’s in the above italicized paragraphs.
I don’t need to say it, do I? True, that was a very, very poor attempt at writing without an alphabet. But, I’ve got time to work on it. I have decided to do this one at a time with every single of the 26 alphabets; then maybe we can thinking of not using two at time. And I’ll make it a point to write longer, sensible-er things next time! Gosh, I have a long way to go!
What brought this on?

Well, I recently read the book ‘Ella Minnow Pea’ by Mark Dunn. Ella Minnow Pea (‘LMNOP’) is a girl who lives on a small island called Nollop. This little island was supposed to be the home to Nevin Nollop, the guy who created the panagram ‘Quick brown fox jumps over the lazy goat.” There is his old statue on the island, with the pangram written below it. However, the rusty alphabets begin to fall off one by one, and along with them the language of the island begins to crumble. Every time a letter falls off it is assumed by the islanders as a message from Nollop himself to stop using that alphabet forever. Since the books is written in the form of letters that Ella writes, the author also stops using the letters once they fall off.
That book is pure, unadulterated fun; you should really check it out.

And what I tried to write (the specs thing), weird as it may sound, is true. But more on that later! As for my real spectacles, I still have to wear them. Rather unfortunate, don’t you think?

Why Poetry Sucks

Poetry sucks; well 99% of it, anyway. I hate poetry; even the 1% that doesn’t suck as much as the rest. I can recall only two poems that I’ve actually ever really liked(and they were not in any way based on sadness). Usually it’s too vague, too depressing, and most of it doesn’t have a clear message.

All the poems that you’ll find strewn all over the internet are something else: usually it’s a combination of some glittery anime picture or a sunset picture with a couple standing there, or just any revoltingly romantic picture and a few non-rhyming lines with words that you’ll never use while writing or talking squeezed in there just for the sake of it. Of course, it has to be about either death or love. And the basic principle is – the less you understand it; the better it is. Kind of like modern art all over again, huh? It’s depressing to see so many people waste so much time on being depressing!

I don’t deny that it’s hard to write: all the haikus and acrostics and all. But why write it, right?! Why does anyone need to write a poem with “17 syllables divided into three phrases of 5, 7 and 5 syllables” which is what I think a haiku is?! So what if it’s difficult; writing with your feet is difficult – doesn’t mean it has a point!

My views on poetry are basically summed up by Jess Mariano in Gilmore Girls: “I can’t get into poetry. It’s kind of like, geez, just say it already, we’re dying here.”

“One word, made up: Douchepocalypse.”

Lately, what with having fractured my hand (isn’t it cool how I can type, but I can’t write or do any other important work?), I have had pretty much nothing to do. Naturally, I sit at home, glued to the computer, all day.

Now, if you are as crazy about How I Met Your Mother as I am, you have probably recognized the title as a dialogue from the episode Robots vs. Wrestlers. Yep, that’s what Barney Stinson says about a party full of ‘stuffy, pretentious snoots’. There are two things that totally crack me up in that episode: first, the part where Marshall says that William Defoe sounds like a frog talking to a parrot(it totally does!); and second, how totally excited Ted is about meeting the editor of the New York Times crossword. That’s what I was watching today, when I realized that I’ve never ever tried solving a crossword puzzle!

A few months back, one of my best friends wrote a totally inspiring blog post on how she loves solving rubik’s cubes. I’ve never tried solving one; and I don’t think I’ll be able to, either. I was obsessed, though, with playing all sorts of word games a few years back. My sister and I used to literally spend hours solving word jumbles together. I remember one time we were playing Word Challenge on Facebook; and by the time we were ready to stop, my hands had turned into claws and her eyes were hurting! So, quite confident about it; I decided to try solving a crossword today, you know, just to see if I could.

I wasn’t quite pleased with myself, though, when after a few minutes, the only two things I had managed to “solve” were: ”Four letters, Red Planet” and ”___, humbug”! Even after some time, it just got worse: I only got two more words, one of which was a name. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I suck at solving crosswords. A lot. Maybe it’ll take lot more time and practice for me to get to the point where I can solve an entire crossword, or understand what Ted says about the whole lyric baritone thing.

At least I know I still have a long way to go before I reach that level of ultimate douchiness. That’s definitely a relief!

BlogJunta - An ode to the Blogosphere

A New, Old Book

I am not a technology-person. Well, at least not when it comes to books. Ebooks and ereaders are all okay; but for me, books need to have a physical presence.

It reminds me of dialogue I loved from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, where Giles says, “Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell… musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is… it has no texture, no context. It’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be, um… smelly.”

I love the smell of paper and ink; old as well as new. I love to hold the book in my hand, curl up on a couch and get absorbed in that world. I love the sense of satisfaction I get, as I turn the last page. I do read a lot on the computer now, but it hurts my eyes after awhile. I don’t like to scribble in the margins or dog-ear my books, but I like the option of getting to do it. Reading a real book is so much more personal, than looking at a screen. I don’t like audio books either – I like to listen to myself read the book, inside my head – not someone else.
As the world “develops”, more and more things are getting replaced by screens. I don’t like that – I don’t want the world of real, paper books to be replaced by all things digital.

As much as all of this is true, it’s also true that real, paper books are not that durable. It’s also much easier to carry books around in your phone, than to actually carry a dozen books. If I had to carry as many books on vacation as something digital can carry, I would probably end up with a hunchback.

I would like to have a book that could stand the test of time; but still be an actual, physical book. Something that isn’t made of a material as bio-degradable as paper, yet is eco-friendly – something that would last centuries without damage – something that actually allows me to turn the pages with my hands – something that smells and has texture – something that won’t turn soggy if dropped in water nor will there be any kind of electric current thing – something that is light in weight – something that is all this but affordable. A super-book of some sort. Something that is new, but it’s still the same old book, you know? Yes, that’s it. I don’t have many demands from technology; hell, I don’t even understand most of the stuff that is there – but this, the super-book, that’s something I’d love to own!