Friday, December 14, 2012

Development of language

In recent sessions we have looked at some of the ways in which language changes, adopts new words or expressions, develops jargon for new inventions......
Eating our Words
We began with a quiz to identify food words, that have become part of English and their country of origin.
Most people knew that Baguette comes to us from France, Risotto and Salami are from Italy and Curry is from India. Borsch (from the Ukraine), Frangipane (from Belgium via Italy), Moussaka (originally from the Balkans and Garibaldi, the biscuit, (from UK) were a bit more difficult.
Bearing in mind the idea of  'thinking again' and not just going with their first idea the group were asked to choose a type of restaurant, as a setting and write a short story in which the atmosphere of the restaurant was created.

Eponyms Galore
In our next session we started with a short, general knowledge quiz, just to remind ourselves that it helps to have good general knowledge, if you are a writer.
We then looked at lots of eponyms, words that have come in to the language from people, real or fictional. Words such as sandwich, hoover, mackintosh, boycott are commonly known to be named after people but what about 'hooligan' from an old music hall song, from the 1890s, about a rowdy Irish family of that name?
After brainstorming a whole list, making us realise just how many there are, we had a bit of fun making up eponymous characters and setting them in a short story.

Famous Quotes
Sayings, like eponyms, become part of our language. Starting with an article about Mae West, herself an eponym (life vest) and a prolific source of great 'one liners.' .....It's not the men in my life, it's the life in my men...................'we did another little quiz, this time featuring 'who said it?' including:
God doesn't play dice.
It costs me a fortune to look this cheap.
I have a dream.
We then used a well known quote, as a title for a piece of writing.

Playing with Words
We began with a multiple choice quiz, (the last one for a while) in which the members of the group had to choose the correct definition of ten words such as babbit, fabulist, skirl.....
Then they had to work as many of the words as possible into a story

Looking at a list of opening sentences, some famous, some not and some simply made up for the exercise, we worked on identifying what they were supposed to be doing eg, using words to create an atmosphere, using a quotation to introduce an argument, using shock tactics and being provocative.....
Next we took some simple sentences that might be used as openings and tried to develop them stage by stage until we found the best version. Finally we all took the same opening phrase to begin a piece of writing, which was, 'My mother never.....'

Meanings, Changes in meaning and Precision
We started with the ubiquitous 'nice' a word which has changed its meaning several times and for which the Oxford English Dictionary lists 14 different senses. This set us thinking about the need to be clear and precise but also the need to be aware of the changes and evolution of words:
Gay means something very different to most people today from what it meant 50 years ago.
We looked at a few genuine howlers and clangers, just to show how easy it is sometimes to get it wrong:
In 1957 Eugene O'Neill won a Pullet Surprise. Autobiography is the history of motor cars.
Romeo's last wish was to be laid by Juliet.
Lastly we worked on a couple of boring repetitive pieces, featuring verbs of speech and verbs of movement,  to improve them and create atmosphere and interest.

The answers to the quotes and definitions; Einstein, Dolly Parton, Martin Luther King. Babbit is a soft alloy of 3 metals used for bearings: A fabulist is a composer of fables: A skirl is a shrill sound.

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