Thursday, May 07, 2009
When I was six or eight or thereabouts my parents gave me a book. I forget what the book was called, something symmetrical like 1001 Answers to 1001 Questions, but I do remember that my addiction to questions was driving my parents nuts. They were probably hoping that giving me this compendium for curious kids would get me to shut up. Alas, it didn’t but I loved that very first reference book of mine for answering one thousand questions I hadn’t ever thought of, plus another one that I had thought of but hadn't found the answer to yet: What makes a blue sky red?
I love words as much as finding answers (esp. to unanswerable questions like, how fast can an editor edit?) and this makes me a sucker for the forum run by SENSE. I’ve talked about this trove for language fans before (Deep gobbledy joy) so you’ll know we tend to crowdsource serious questions on terminology and professional practice. But “Sensers” like a spot of fun as much as the next free lancer, so there’s space for the odd amusement as well, although I hasten to add that to keep the forum properly business-like we circulate the truly fluffy stuff via a Yahoo group called (wait for it) Non-SENSE.
A recent gem of forum amusement came from Kari Koonin, a specialist translator. Her post drew attention to the Pikestaff newsletter from the Clear English Commission which advises readers to “go easy on verbing nouns” and quotes from letters to the Daily Telegraph, including:
* Problems arise when people verbify a noun because they have forgotten that the relevant verb already exists. The result: being obligated to do things, [and] signaturing documents. (Tony Eaton)
* I have just been […] speaking to a man who told me what bus I would be on once I had "departured" from Taunton. (Meriel Thurstan)
Kari ended her post by commenting, “Signaturing? Departuring? The mind boggles. Sorry, must dash, haven't completioned my current assignment yet and the deadline's horizoning!”
On the more serious topic of terminology was a question headed To “the” or not to “the”? posed by Anne Hodgkinson of Rosetta Stone Translations, who specializes in the arts, especially music. Anne is about to proofread a book called Gamelan in 19th-century Netherlands and wrote, “I think there should be a ‘the’ there somewhere. Before I go so far as to say [that any] other possibilities are wrong, can anyone tell me if they really are?” Anne felt sure there would be a clear answer but, as she said in her summary of the answers, “There were almost as many opinions as replies” on the correct placement of “the” in a title of a book about the Dutch experience of Indonesian orchestral music. In the end, she went with Gamelan in the Netherlands in the 19th century.
Clearly there isn’t always an answer, right or wrong, to nitpicky questions of terminology, or any other question for that matter. At least on the SENSE forum we can tell when a question is a question. Not so for Monica Dickens during a book-signing session in Sydney in 1964. The famous author (great-grand-daughter of Charles Dickens) was scribbling her name in book after book when the next person in line said in a broad Australian accent, “Emma Chisit.” Monica duly dedicated the next book “To Emma” when the shopper stopped her. “Nah, I was only assking ya for the price of the book.”
This true incident inspired a witness, one Alistair Morrison, to coin the term Strine and publish Let Stalk Strine, a wonderful compendium of the whimsicalities of Australian speech, written under the pseudonym Afferbeck Lauder (alphabetical order). Let me leave you now with a lesson on local lingo for non-natives visiting Down Under. Catcha necks time!