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A Poem for a Thursday #61

Photo by Carlos Alberto Gómez Iñiguez on Unsplash

Nikki Giovanni is a well-known African-American poet. She has won many awards and has been nominated for a Grammy for her poetry album. She was commissioned by the radio program All Things Considered to write a poem for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.  Her poetry is described as being "politically, spiritually, and socially aware."

I wrote a good omelet...and ate
a hot poem...after loving you
Buttoned my car...and drove my
coat home...in the rain...
after loving you
I goed on red...and stopped on 
green...floating somewhere in between...
being here and being there...
after loving you
I rolled my bed...turned down
my hair...slightly
confused but...I don't care...
Laid out my teeth...and gargled my
gown...then I stood
...and laid me down...
To sleep...
after loving you

I Wrote a Good Omelet
Nikki Giovanni

Brona has featured a poem today too.

Book Review//Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper

I missed my calling in life. After reading Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries I have realized that I am meant to be sitting in a quiet office in Springfield, MA reading about, researching, and occasionally discussing words. It sounds absolutely wonderful.

I loved this book. It is everything I like in nonfiction. It discussed a subject I knew little about in an approachable, informative, and entertaining manner. And it was about words. I like words.

Kory Stamper is a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. The making of a dictionary may not sound like the most fascinating subject but, believe me, it is. Stamper discusses how definitions are written, how word use has changed over the years, and how our perceptions of the English language affects our response to dictionaries. Yes, people do have, according to Stamper, very strong feelings about dictionaries. Stamper says:

Many people-and many people who think they'd be good at this lexicography gig-believe that the dictionary is some great guardian of the English language, that its job is to set boundaries of decorum around this profligate language like a great linguistic housemother setting curfew. Words that have made it into the dictionary are Official with a Capital O, sanctioned, part of Real and Proper English. The corollary is that if certain words are bad, uncouth, unlovely, or distasteful, then folks think that the dictionary will make sure they are never entered into its hallowed pages, and thus are such words banished from Real, Official, Proper English. The language is thus protected, kept right, pure, good.  This is commonly called "prescriptivism," and it is unfortunately not how dictionaries work at all. We don't just enter the good stuff; we enter the bad and the ugly stuff, too. We are just observers, and the goal is to describe, as accurately as possible, as much of the language as we can. 

Stamper has such a way with words which I realize is not at all surprising considering she works with them all day every day. (Oh, the dream! Why can't I?)  I like this passage about the English language.

We think of English as a fortress to be defended, but a better analogy is to think of English as a child. We love and nurture it into being, and once it gains gross motor skills, it starts going exactly where we don't want it to go:  it heads right for the goddammed electrical sockets. We dress it in fancy clothes and tell it to behave, and it comes home with its underwear on its head and wearing someone else's socks. As English grows, it lives its own life, and this is right and healthy. Sometimes English does exactly what we think it should; sometimes it goes places we don't like and thrives there in spite of our worrying. We can tell it to clean itself up and act more like Latin; we can throw tantrums and start learning French instead. But we will never really be the boss of it. And that's why it flourishes. 

People get very upset about changes to the English language. I have read whole threads on Twitter written by people upset that a word is being used incorrectly. This seems to become more and more common as the world, and the English language becomes more homogenous. I understand how they feel. I have words and grammar issues that push my buttons. However,  language changes, usage changes, words change. Sometimes we have to change too, hard as that is.

Etymological fallacy is the worst sort of pedantry: a meaningless personal opinion trying to dress itself up as conern for preserving historical principles. It misses that language change itself is a historical principle: a language that doesn't change is a dead language, and as much as etymological fallacists seem to love the purity of Latin, you'll notice that none of them have abandoned that whore English for it.

If you have ever wondered how a dictionary is written, or even if you haven't, read Word By Word. It will give you a whole new appreciation for the English language and for the people who record its usage in the dictionaries we all occasionally pull off our shelves.

I will be here, dreaming of that office in Springfield, where I could spend my days researching words, talking of words, using words, and writing about words.

A Poem for a Thursday #60

Photo by Skyler Gerald on Unsplash
Linda Pastan served as the Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991 until 1995. She attended Radcliffe College and in her senior year, she won the Mademoiselle poetry prize. Sylvia Plath was the runner-up. Pastan produces "quiet lyrics that focus on themes like marriage, parenting, and grief. She is interested in the anxieties that exist under the surface of everyday life."

You tell me to live each day
as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen
where before coffee I complain
of the day ahead - that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors. 

But why the last? I ask. Why not
live each day as if it were the first - 
all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing
her eyes awake that first morning,
the sun coming up
like an ingénue in the east?

You grind the coffee
with the small roar of a mind 
trying to clear itself. I set
the table, glance out the window
where dew has baptized every 
living surface.

Imaginary Conversation
Linda Pastan