On July 14, 2014, I sat down and started this blog with three posts, the better to keep myself from wondering what to do first and to keep from looking like I was a rookie with just one posted essay to my name. Those three posts are still the backbone of my categories Sustaining Books, Browsing through Bartlett's (Familiar Quotations), and Words Worth Defending.
Now, with this 400th post, I want to share some thoughts about the state of the language and what I've learned about it through observing it for nearly five years in order to write about it.
Words Worth Defending is the category that the world has striven to change for me. I began it as a way to get some use out of obscure or dying words, to defend them by getting them some use in my own writing and encourage you, my readers, to get to know them.
But the world is in such a state that all words now seem much more worth defending than they did in 2014. Too many people in high positions seem to care too little about the correct use and meaning of words. There are too many days when "You know what I mean" needs contradicting -- I don't know what the speaker means when misusing a word, I know only the standard meaning of the misused word.
I think of words as tools of my craft, and I would no more destroy a word by using it poorly than I would have destroyed my mother's sewing machine or my father's workbench. My words are like their tools, built over the years to do particular jobs.
But there are no hardware stores to get new words when we lose an old one. There are dictionaries and other references, such as cyclopedias, but we need to be careful in using them. We need teachers, writers and editors to act like the owners of the hardware stores who can say "I have the tool for that right over here."
We need to be like shoppers when we're looking for a word -- not just hunting in our minds, but ready to look up what we want, and know where to look. Getting a million potential answers on a search engine isn't necessarily as effective as going to a specific reference, such as The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. and finding specific details within it.
My category Sustaining Books is changing, too. I took the title from a Winnie-the-Pooh story by A.A. Milne, "In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into a Tight Place." Specifically, he gets stuck in Rabbit's doorway. Since he must stay until he's thin enough to get out, he asks, "Then would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness?"
There's more Great Tightness in my life than it had five years ago, when I started to think that Sustaining Books might be a good type of blog. But the meaning is shifting a bit. I'm becoming more fond of the change from the world's many required screens to the retreat of the paper page. "The same old thing" is far from an insult here.
French, Scottish, and musical influences have changed less than these two categories, and I continue to enjoy sharing their influence on my life and language.
Browsing through Bartlett's, my original name for topical selections of quotations, remains a way to react to particular topics with what might be considered pure editing -- just looking up a word and selecting particular quotations that include it.
But now, with post no. 400, I can look at a collection of my own and find things I want to quote.
I'm glad I've been doing this for most of the past five years. Thanks for coming along.
Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook... at the moment. (It may yet get combined with my personal page.)
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Filed under: Writing