Friday, July 22, 2005

Words, words, words !

I have a major fascination with words and the English language which actually started before I started to become a serious writer. I love all sorts of language play - puns, anagrams, Scrabble, rearranging advertising slogans (eg. "Tense, nervous headache? You need Andrex!" - for those who are too young to remember the original advert or who are not familiar with the advert or the brand, it was originally "Anadin", a brand of painkiller (logically), rather than "Andrex", a brand of toilet paper !). The only thing I've never got the hang of is crosswords, strangely. Although I'm a complete pedant when it comes to English usage, I still love to play around with words: I have fun making up, or using other people's, invented words. Supercalafragalisticexpealidocious anyone ? Merely saying it slowly sounds quite atrocious - and writing it was even worse ! I went to Sweden a couple of years ago to give a Harry Potter paper, and I enjoyed trying to guess the origins of the place names I saw on the hour-long drive from the airport to the hotel where I was staying - a lot of them seemed to feature Tuna, but had nothing to do with fish !

I love onomatopoeia too - words like susurration, which is a favourite of Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching in The Wee Free Men. Like Tiffany I've often read the dictionary as if it were a novel, and a friend recently told me the definition of a boring person: someone who looks up a word in the dictionary and then closes the dictionary - which seemed like a good definition to me. I love words so much that I receive two daily emails which give me a Word of the Day: is one website where you can sign up for such a service, but there are dozens more online.

Part of the reason why I enjoy both Terry Pratchett's books and Harry Potter is the linguistic fun they both offer; the Discworld books are full of "punes" (as they are invariably called on the Discworld) or plays on words, and there's fun in figuring out the English meaning of J K Rowling's often Latinised names for spells and creatures. And of course, it was the magic of language development which led Tolkien to the creation of The Lord of the Rings. Not that I've any intention of trying to create my own myths - I'll leave that to those with the imagination to create fictional worlds and I'll stick to what I'm better at, writing literary criticism.

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