February Reading Challenge: Anna Karenina

My desire to get through this Leo Tolstoy creation is red hot; unfortunately my success with doing so is as non-existent as a flame in an outdoor fireplace buried under four feet of snow. I have tried reading this novel over and over and over again, and while I did get further this month than I have during previous attempts, I still could not get through the seven hundred and fifty four pages of this particular edition. Why oh why can I not get through it?

Before talking about why my need to read this novel is so intense, I need to tell you that this Reading Challenge conclusion is not [primarily] about the contents of Anna Karenina, in case you haven’t already figured that out. Although February was a short month, albeit a day longer than in most years, I’m not going to extend this challenge for the following reasons:

  1. I’m not about to bullshit you with the “I really will finish it in the next two to three days” bit.
  2. I am feeling quite under the weather, and can’t bring myself to keep my eyes open and myself awake to read this, when I just want/need sleep and to feel better.

 

So let’s talk about language. Language is a large part of Anna Karenina, and not just because the edition I have been attempting to read is a translation from Russian to English. French is spoken by the characters of the novel, and many times is used to either create more well-rounded children¹ or make a lecture or statement seem less harsh or formal². This just fascinates me: that sometimes certain languages can lessen the blow of an insult, or heighten a conversation through the use of specific terms.

Lately and more frequently, I have been reading blog posts, news articles, short fiction pieces and the like that discuss language. Most recently, in the February 22nd edition of The New Yorker, the fiction piece entitled “Sine Cosine Tangent” reminded me of such a simple, commonly underestimated fact about language that has also presented itself in Anna Karenina: words and how they are used have such strong implications, effects, consequences.

Take for example, a sentence from this short story: “I watched standing up.” Okay, so our narrator tells us a simple fact about how he watched, in this case, a spot on television on which his estranged father appeared. The fact that this is an ending sentence, and not an introductory sentence, makes it abrupt; significant. What would it mean if the narrator was sitting down? Perhaps he watched standing up because when his father left, our narrator was sitting at a desk. Perhaps sitting while watching means getting comfortable; paying attention. Standing up implies impatience, perhaps frustration, disbelief.

Besides the breaking down of words that the narrator does in this story – more language fun! – he also admits to wanting to read “lengthy and intense European novel[s], written in the nineteen-thirties, and translated from the German…”While Anna Karenina was translated from Russian in the 1870s, this “wanting” is similar to what I feel towards not just this classic but other classic European novels.

My infatuation with classic literature comes from my infatuation with the unknown, the unfamiliar, and language. I feel as if I was not born just in the wrong decade, but in the wrong century; I’m in love with the fairy-tale like parties and balls, English manors and flighty adventures. Perhaps my nostalgic personality is the big driver of my love for the classics; I want to forever preserve the past. Not that I don’t like the present; my surprise at loving The Goldfinch has inspired me to reach beyond the modern novels I was introduced to, and likely turned me off from contemporary fiction, in college, and try to enjoy something from at least this century decade. Although I am also infatuated by the language of historical and classic novels, I’m beginning to sense shifts in contemporary language, and how explicit our discussions and words have become.

So while I don’t see myself no longer reading classic novels, I feel my need to read contemporary novels increasing. Which is also important to me for the sake of my blog; I’m hoping that by talking more about what is happening now in literature, I’ll be presenting a better platform for anyone looking to discuss books and writing and language.

What literary infatuations do you have? Are you in a similar bookish boat that I am? I hope my Reading Challenge failure this month will not stop you from following me into my next Challenge, or from sharing with me your challenges, failures, and successes. See you soon!

 

 

 

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003)

¹Tolstoy, 254.

²Tolstoy, 265.

Word of the Day: 1/18/16 – 1/22/16

Welcome to a new week of words. Here is Wordsmith’s introduction to the week’s theme:

“If you have ever wondered why a petticoat is called a petticoat, here’s the scoop. It is, literally, a petty coat. Or used to be. In the beginning it was an undercoat worn by men. Over time, it jumped from men to women. And then it slipped from shoulders to waist. That’s language for you. Don’t try to make sense of it.

And, whatever you do, do not look for much logic in it. Or claim that because a word meant such and such earlier, it should mean the same today.

This week we’ll discuss words related to clothing that are used metaphorically. And like petticoat, we’ll start from the top and start sliding down as the week progresses.” Enjoy!

brass hat (bras hat)

noun: a high-ranking official, especially from the military or police

Etymology
From the gilt insignia worn on the cap. Also see brass ring, brass collar, brassy. Earliest documented use: 1887

Usage (from Wordsmith)
“‘I don’t understand why a brass hat from the police would want to talk to me,’ I tell him. ‘I’m just a passing academic.’”
Shashi Warrier; The Girl Who Didn’t Give Up; Tranquebar Press; 2015.


sackcloth (SAK-kloth)

noun: 1. a coarse cloth of jute, flax, etc., used for making sacks
2. a garment made of this cloth, worn to express remorse, humility, grief, etc
3. an expression of penitence, mourning, humility, etc

Etymology
From the Bible in which wearing of sackcloth and sprinkling of ashes is indicated as a sign of repentance, mourning, humility, etc. Earliest documented use: before 1400

Usage (from Wordsmith)
“This disappointment, coming just at the time when the yearly interest upon the mortgage was due, had brought upon his father one of those paroxysms of helpless gloom and discouragement in which the very world itself seemed clothed in sackcloth.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe; The Writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe; Houghton, Mifflin; 1865.

“‘Don’t speak to him, Laura,’ she had said. ‘It will show how we despise him for his disgraceful conduct, and make him the sooner come creeping to our knees in sackcloth and ashes.’” George Manville Fenn; Blind Policy; John Long; 1904.


straitlaced or straight-laced (STRAYT-layst)

adjective: excessively strict, rigid, old-fashioned, or prudish

Etymology
From Middle English streit (narrow), from Old French estreit, from Latin strictus, past particle of stringere (to bind, draw tight) + laqueus (noose). Earliest documented use: 1630

Usage (from Wordsmith)
“Aren’t they the rather dull, unimaginative, straitlaced characters who keep their noses constantly buried in rule books?” Your Stars; The Gold Coast Bulletin (Southport, Australia); Oct 13, 2015.


sansculotte or  sans-culotte (sanz-kyoo-LOT)

noun: 1. an extreme radical republican during the French Revolution
2. a radical or revolutionary

Etymology
From French, literally, without knee breeches. In the French Revolution, this was the aristocrats’ term of contempt for the ill-clad volunteers of the Revolutionary army who rejected knee breeches as a symbol of the upper class and adopted pantaloons. As often happens with such epithets, the revolutionaries themselves adopted it as a term of pride. Earliest documented use: 1790

Usage (from Wordsmith)
“The bigger deal is that the council … was snookered into signing on with a group of environmental and legal sansculottes.” Colin McNickle; Thrice the Hubris; Tribune-Review (Pittsburgh); Nov 21, 2010


bootleg (BOOT-leg)

verb transitive, intransitive: to make, sell, or transport something illegally
noun: something illegally made, sold, or distributed
adjective: made, sold, or distributed illegally

Etymology
From the practice of concealing a liquor flask in the leg of a boot. Earliest documented use: 1889

Usage (from Wordsmith)
“I swear, every single movie he had was bootleg. I think his whole room was bootleg.”
Michelle Stimpson; Trouble in My Way; Pocket Books; 2008.

Word? Image? Phrase? Pictograph – of the Year

As you may have heard, the Oxford Dictionaries released 2015’s Word of the Year. Or, more accurately, the first ever pictograph of the year. The “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji is one I have used in texts and on social media, and I have to admit I respect the reasoning behind choosing an emoji, and this emoji in particular, for the Word of the Year: because it is “the ‘word’ that best reflect[s] the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015” based on statistical evidence that shows it is the most internationally used emoji. To justify the selection further, the Oxford Dictionaries research also shows that overall emoji usage has been increasing over time.

So what does this mean for language? Some writers disagree with the selection, and even offer other emoji options that would be better contenders for this title; while others point out that emojis can relay emotions and feelings that can be lost in textual conversation (although this doesn’t mean they are accepted as important “words”). And of course, there’s the social media court that is battling ruthlessly over this issue; I’ve seen supporters, deniers, and undecided opinions on this extremely important social issue.

When I heard the emoji news, my first reaction was to balk. You have to be kidding me I thought as my eyes rolled around hundreds of times in their sockets. My classic literature loving, English major, previous Writing Center tutor, Word of the Day featuring self (which is most of my self) cringed at the though that OH MY GOD EMOJIS ARE TAKING OVER THE WORLD WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO OUR VOCABULARY?!? *Crying face emoji.*

Oh yeah, that’s right, I love emojis! I like creating emoji phrases that nobody can decipher and sending a flood of my emotions to my friends and significant other through pictographs whether they enjoy it or not – it’s a fun little way (for me) of telling them how I feel, telling them what I’m thinking, and letting them know how bored I am.

But for the majority of my conversations – probably about 98% – I am speaking English. I still need to know how to talk on the phone; I still need to know how to construct a professional email; I still need to know how to write actual, intelligent words, phrases, and sentences with letters and punctuation. Sure, emojis have gained in popularity because our technology has changed and our communication avenues are changing, or broadening across different platforms. But I’m not convinced that this threatens other traditional forms of communicating. If I put a girl-with-bunny-ears emoji (my favorite) next to a sun emoji in an email to my boss telling him yes, 10:00am on Wednesday is fine for the meeting, I would have another meeting to go to that would address why the f*** I’m putting weird symbols in my emails and how inappropriate that is.

As far as the argument “An emoji isn’t a word,” I can see where people have their qualms. However, if you type “word definition” into your Google search bar, here is the result:

noun: a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed.

I’ll let you mull over that. *Sly smile emoji*

Overall, should we be up in arms about this Word of the Year? No, because although I love discussing language and “threats” to the institution of the English language (which has evolved greatly over time, by the way), there are far more pressing issues that Facebook and Twitter court should be concerning themselves with. *Punching fist* *peace sign* *cute bow* *toasting beer glasses* emojis.

 

Happy Birthday Choice Words!

One year ago today I debuted my Choice Words feature (on my original blog domain). Here is the sass I chose to start it off with:


 

*This post originally appeared on October 23rd, 2014

I was scrolling through tumblr, and I found a picture with the words “Stop correcting my grammar, this isn’t English class.” I would post it, but the image behind the text isn’t something I want on my blog, and it’s not the actual post I want to discuss anyway.
You don’t want your grammar (or spelling, punctuation, etc.) corrected because we aren’t inside a school or classroom? Girl/boy, please.
Yes, I understand you may find it annoying if you text me or post something for me and the first thing I do is notice you used the wrong “its” or “their.” I don’t mean to annoy you.
And you’re right, this isn’t English class – this is REAL LIFE. Yes, your spelling and punctuation matter in real life, just as they do in English class.
Is it silly that I get [so] worked up about incorrectly spelled words and grammatically incorrect sentences? Perhaps. Will I cut it out? No.
In no way do I think I am perfect with my grammar; if you see something wrong on my blog or when I speak, let me know! Because I’ll be sure to do the same [for you].


Aah, memories. Though I am happy to say these feelings hold true one year later.

As you know, I am working on a redesign/revamping of my blog, and a more reliable and consistent Choice Words will be a big part of that. Have any suggestions? Shoot me an email or leave a comment for what you’d like to see for advice and tips on writing clearly, speaking effectively, and working towards a heightened understanding of grammar and language.

As always, thank you for reading (and following!).

(Fun Fact: I originally published my entire blog on July 4th 2014 – what a unique date.)