Tag Archives: non-fiction

And the 2011 winners are…

2 Dec

It’s December, and you know what that means – stressing about another year having passed while your goals are inexplicably further away than ever! No? Just me then? Ahem, moving on…

December is when the when lexicographers unveil their words of the year. Exciting times!

The Oxford English Dictionary gave us a shortlist of 10 words, each one chosen to reflect the ethos – or “flavour” – of 2011. Different lists were made for UK and US audiences, but the chosen word of the year was the same for both countries: ‘squeezed middle’. (It’s worth noting that the OED recognises two-word expressions as compounds, which is why it’s counted as one word.)

So what does this title-winning word mean, according to the OED?

squeezed middle

Squeezed middle: the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes, and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty, consisting principally of those people on low or middle incomes.

Or, as Ed Miliband, the British MP who coined the word, explains: “[The squeezed middle is] around the average income, but below and above the average income.”

Right, just about everyone then.

Some of the other words on the OED list are to be expected in current times: ‘occupy’, ‘ the 99%’, ‘crowdfunding’… and, somewhat randomly, Berlusconi’s ‘bunga bunga’.

But that’s just the OED. The dictionary.com team came to a different conclusion for its word of the year, choosing a word that “aptly defines the spirit of 2011, even if the choice is obscure”. And obscure it was – drum roll please…

Tergiversate: to change repeatedly one’s attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.

Try to work ‘tergiversate’ into a conversation today!

Meanwhile, in Holland, it was a democratic process, with the public visiting the Dutch Institute of Lexicology website to vote on words. Their winner? ‘Wild knitting’, which is the practice of knitting items to cover poles, trees, statues and other public items. You might also know it as yarn bombing or street/graffiti knitting.

The Dutch runner-up was also interesting – it was ‘infobesity’, the word used to describe what happens when you overdose on information gleaned through the wonders of modern technology.

So there you go! As my mother is fond of saying, “You learn something new every day.” Well, she doesn’t say the learned information will always be helpful.


Untranslatable words of love and longing

22 Nov

The English language sure has a lot of nifty words. For example: Sandwich. Muleskinner. Iguana. Those are just three random words – they were the first that came to mind. I don’t know what that might mean, and frankly I don’t want to know.

But I recently read an article over at bigthink.com that pointed out some of the shortcomings in our language. The author listed 10 relationship words that have no equivalent in English – or that at least need more than one word to be explained. There’s mamihlapinatapei, a Yagan word for “the wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something, but are both reluctant to start”, through to ya’aburnee, Arabic for “You bury me” (not an order of assisted suicide, funnily enough, but a statement of wanting to die before one’s beloved does, so life doesn’t have to be experienced without them).

I was also really interested in the almost throwaway line referencing the Chinese proverb meaning “have fate without destiny”. The author pointed out the differentiation between fate and destiny, which are often seen as being interchangeable in our language. This proverb is said to describe “couples who meet, but who don’t stay together, for whatever reason”. Aww, bittersweet.

You can read the full list of words and their meanings over at Big Think.

And let’s start making up some of these words ourselves – it’s like a love-only version of Balderdash! I’ll start. Transchell: a fellow passenger on your regular public transport route that you have a crush on, but you don’t want to ask them out in case they say no and you’ll be so embarrassed you’ll have to change your public transport routine and it would be all really inconvenient, so it’s probably just better to keep quiet and dream from afar.

Catchy, no?

Dear Me

25 Feb

Dear Me: A Letter to my Sixteen-Year-Old Self, edited by Joseph Galliano, 2009
Dear Me
What would you say to yourself at 16, if you had the chance now? Would you tell Younger You to be crazier, not be so crazy, to follow your dreams, stay away from that boy, learn the piano, give up your nail biting habit?

“You adore music more than anything in the world… but that doesn’t mean you have to marry the lead singer of every band you ever had a poster of on your bedroom wall.” (Patsy Kensit now, to Patsy Kensit age 16)

The editor of Dear Me: A Letter to my Sixteen-Year-Old Self, asked 64 celebrities to write to their teen selves and share the letters with the world, and the resulting book is just super, super sweet. Sometimes sad (“You’ve run away from home and will be running for a long time”), sometimes funny (“Baton twirling is not a skill you’ll need later in life, trust me”), each letter is tinged with so much affection it can actually hurt your heart.

“You deserve a lot better than the guy you are going to meet next year… just let him pass, like he was a ghost… Everything is not going to be good, but everything will be perfect. The best is coming up.” (Roseanne Cash)

The celebs are mainly UK-based, so I didn’t know them all. Having said that, there are heaps of recognisable people in there – Elton John, Stephen Fry, Jackie Collins, Baz Luhrmann, Annie Lennox, Emma Thompson…

And it’s just so, so sweet. Did I mention that already?

FYI: You can share your own letter at the Dear Me blog, or tweet your #dearme message.

And as it’s my birthday today, I’m indulging myself and sharing part of my own letter…

Dear Literate Chicken at 16,

Life will get better. Some day you’ll get paid to write and even edit other people’s writing (!), you’ll own your very own beautiful cat (!!), and you’ll be living in Sydney on your own(!!!). It may not all go according to plan, but you’ll have amazing friends and an amazing family (yes, you will one day get along with your mother – be nicer to her or you’ll feel bad about it later). In fact, try not to plan so much – just be happy as your life unfolds. It will all be okay.

Also, don’t grow your fringe out.

Love your older, calmer self,
Literate Chicken

Death Scenes

20 Feb

Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective’s Scrapbook, edited by Sean Tejaratchi, 1996

The purpose of this collection of homicide pictures is to show the work of the peace officer and his problems…

Death Scenes: A homocide detective's scrapbookSo begins Jack Huddleston’s introduction to his original scrapbook – but these are no ordinary pictures, and Jack’s problems aren’t your ordinary work woes either. Jack was a police officer working with the LAPD from the 1930s to the 50s, and his scrapbook is a collection of crime scene photos, mugshots and oddities. Death Scenes, a sample of those photos, is really not for the faint-hearted: suicides, car accident victims, murdered children… page after page, image after image, shows that violence was around even when our grandparents were kids – or, as the introduction says, “[This book is] proof that there were no ‘good old days’”.

I know a lot of people who would absolutely hate this book. I know others who would find it fascinating. Yes, there are dead bodies galore, but there are stories behind them, some explained by captions, others left to the imagination. There’s the 1930s party scene with smartly dressed couples passed out all around a lounge room, victims of a carbon monoxide-leaking heater; a good-looking young guy who shot himself, captioned with “caused by a broken home and a broken heart”; an 83-year-old woman who killed her 91-year-old husband in a jealous rage after she saw him talking to a female neighbour.

But it’s not all death and bloodshed – Jack was clearly very curious about hermaphrodites, so there are a few pictures of these too. There’s also a photo of a kitten peeing into a large teacup, a few shrunken heads, and a cat with eight legs. Random.

Still, this book really is about its death scenes. For me, the photo that lingers is from a car accident – the driver was decapitated, and his head was found sitting neatly on the road 20m from the car. Some things never change.

Read it if you like real-life crime stories. Definitely don’t read it if you’re easily distressed or freaked out by death.