Now & Forever ABCs (Zoë)

Zoë Aini Constellino née Ayishah

15 September 1972
Jehovah‘s Lawyer

Zoë grew up with wealth, as her parents had a fair income between writing and inheritance by the time she was born.  Still, she never liked high society, nor flaunting wealth — instead her love mirrored that of her parents:  travel, and experiencing the world from the level of the natives.  She loved living in little Chilean villages and eating local home cooked foods to the versions found in the fancy restaurants of the big cities of the world.

She has many friends, dear and diligently kept in touch with, literally around the world — including one person who has recently taken up residence at a science station in Antarctica.  She can speak many languages, and insists she’s uncertain just how many, and can read and write in nearly all of them, and knows anything from a few swear words to enough broken phrases to get along if stranded somewhere in easily several dozen more.

Zoë is French by birth and overall culture, as her family frequently returned to Reims, France where they maintained a large house; she was also educated, primarily, in French schools, though she spent part of high school in Germany.  Though few realise her heritage given that her English is often closer to Public School British English than anything else, and her physical appearance takes heavily from her father’s Haryanvi family, she still favours French foods, and her first and preferred languages is French — reverting to it if she’s stressed enough to forget herself.

She gained a deep fondness for horses as a little girl when her family stayed with a family of Gauchos in Argentina for a summer, but due to her parents’ wanderlust she was unable to ever have a horse of her own — though she rode those of friends every chance she got, and even gained some proficiency in some of the events of equestrianism.  Though for the first of their wedding anniversaries in Colorado, Lucas took her to a ranch whose horses she’d repeatedly remarked on the beauty and grace of so that she might choose one of her own.  She’d, in her own turn, got him one of his favourite models of Camaro — though both would admit that her method of presentation was far more creative than his.

Now & Forever ABCs (Jake)

Well, it would seem I have my first letter that needs skipping, I.

But that’s okay, because historically there is no such thing as a J; all words like Juno, Julius, Jupiter, etc were Iuno, Iulius, and Iupiter in Latin.  Therefore I’m not skipping I, I’m merely putting a funny little tail on it.  QED.

I’m not sure I actually have as many Js as I’d though I did.  But I will be stretching them between today and — depending if I take another break tomorrow and Tuesday — Tomorrow or Wednesday.

Enjoy ye now the mysterious Jacob (the older one) revealed to you now in surprising detail and clarity never before seen by the eyes of Man (and, perhaps, I’ve made my tea a little strong this morning.)

Jacob Sebastian Adamczyk

16 July 1995
Episcopalian

Jacob is a very small, pale, effeminate young man and Allison’s boyfriend.

The couple met in third grade and started dating, officially, in eighth grade.  They argue a lot, about nearly everything, but this seems to work for them; they never fight for long, and always work out compromises so they rarely argue about the same things twice — unless one counts such things as Jake’s insistence that Allison’s taste in music is suspect and her feelings that he is a complete lunatic for some of the painters he admires.

Jacob is an enigma to most people who meet him for the first time.  They often expect him to be gay, at best, or transgender at worst.  He’s neither.  He simply has very soft features, a very slight frame, a quiet voice, is a whopping five foot two and a quarter inches (a full inch and some centimetres shorter than his girlfriend), shoulder length hair, and has a voice that his church’s choir director only called a tenor because he’s disqualified from castrato on technical grounds.  It isn’t helped that he does have rather feminine mannerisms and tastes, but it’s simply a mix of his nature and the fact that he gets on better with women.  Still, he has no interest in men and, while not seeing himself as an exemplary specimen, can think of no reason not to call himself one.

He spoils Allison, especially, but is generous and sweet to all his friends.  Jacob does dream of having a singing career, though it’s mostly dreams — he has never once performed in any capacity but his church choir and has never tried for any solos.  His plans for life usually amount to:  Not get Allison so angry she actually does kill him; get married eventually, possibly to Allison; not get struck by a meteor; learn to hang glide; flip a coin when it’s time to pick a college to decide if he’ll go into ornithology or oenology — or something else starting with ‘o’; and, possibly, run away with a circus.

A curious detail about the boy is the shelf in his room that is about three feet wide and packed end to end with little leather bound journals of various ages and designs.  Supposedly, every one of them are filled — cover to cover — with poetry, but he’s only ever let Allison read them after she threatened to show up at their next date together nude; he made her solemnly swear to never tell anyone what she’d read.  True to her word Allison has only ever confirmed that they are, indeed poems, that some of them are pretty good, and has been seen reading one in particular sometimes and always either with tears in her eyes or laughing.  No one presses the issue given that it’s the single artistic endeavour of his that Allison doesn’t try to talk him into taking up at all professionally, despite clearly enjoying them; it’s assumed this means they’re all intensely personal, whatever they are.

Before anyone asks, no, as a matter of fact he wears neither skirts nor kilts.  He has tried both and, while finding them comfortable, decided he did not care for the look, and thus sticks to shorts, jeans, and trousers.

Damn this language

We need more third person gendered pronouns in English.

Well, yes, I also mean in terms of ones for folks less than perfectly binary gender identity – that’s not what I’m talking about.

One does not need to be writing a homosexual romance to encounter a situation wherein one needs more than one person of the same sex interacting and then try to, smoothly and readably, describe this interaction.  There’re only so many permutations of she, her, herself, and so forth that can be arranged — with the help of the characters’ names — to get the point across; and some sentences just get worse if you substitute the name for the pronoun, sometimes you just have to say he/she.

There.  I feel better.

I apologise in advance for any confusion that arrises from the paragraph that prompted this post, and for the handful of others that simply were as clear as English permitted them to be.

Reader Request Week 2013 #9: Women and Geekdom

What more is there to say except, possibly: Ahmen, Mr Scalzi

Whatever

In e-mail, Brian asks:

Women in Geekdom. Why is this all exploding now? Where is it going?

I am assuming Brian means women in geek-related fields taking a stand against the both latent and overt sexism in those fields and having to deal with outsized, histrionic freakouts some geek dudes are having about it in response.

What’s happening? To explain, let me go to one of my favorite little bits in the film The American President, which I think these days is best known as writer Aaron Sorkin’s rough draft of The West Wing. The scene has President Andrew Shepherd navigating his way through a Christmas party at the White House and coming across a florid, very concerned man in a green jacket:

INT. RESIDENCE - NIGHT An informal Christmas party is underway with maybe 20 GUESTS, some of them familiar faces. SHEPHERD and a GREEN-BLAZERED MAN GREEN…

View original post 1,251 more words

Grammar, orthography, word choice, and other esoteric things

Well, just take the words ‘orthography’ and ‘esoteric’. Be honest, who had to look them up?

Do writers have a responsibility to preserve the language? We certainly have the power to change it for good or ill.

Especially in these days of phone calls, text messages, IMs, and emails the interpersonal missive is ephemeral. It will be no record for future generations to judge and learn the language of today. What legacy, then, do we who produce the words that are being preserved in some manner wish to leave behind us?

Arguably our responsibility is to drag language into the present; kicking and screaming if need be. But do we discard all that came before? Maybe we should pick and choose? Or ought our goal be to preserve it all with, perhaps, some additions tacked on here and there? Some kind of blending of these choices?

Do we embrace the abandonment of whom? Do we allow the semicolon to be forgotten? Do we blur meaning by not joking when we say that ‘a synonym is the word you use when you can’t spell the one you mean’?

Shakespeare and Chaucer had amazing impact on language still felt today, despite centuries between them both and either of them and us. We coin terms, us authors and writers. ‘Scifi’, ‘grok’, ‘robot’, and more come from fiction but creep into usage. Sometimes common, sometimes not so much. Just as ‘arouse’ and others only go back to The Bard and his Globe theatre.

It is my feeling that we should strive hardily to advance language. To improve and expand it. To invent the terms that have not yet been labelled. In days past we might advance punctuation with such clever little inventions as the interrobang, but the advent of the computer reduces that potential.

At times you find books, big press, little press, and self-published alike which are poorly or sloppily edited, or worse edited carefully by those whose grasp of English is all too clearly incomplete. I’ll be the first to admit that a lack of this is a big reaon I have a dear and wonderful editor who is a brutal and obsessive compulsively persnickety grammarian and am sincerely grateful that Apple products have exceptional spell checkers for orthographic errors. Still, I strive to reduce the poor dear’s workload (and thus preserve her sanity, and potentially my life) by learning from my mistakes.

The trouble isn’t entirely editorial, though. Some things can be quite correct in terms of spelling and grammar, but they still use sloppy language. ‘Blue’ may be a word readily recognisable by virtually any English speaking reader you may care to name, but if what you mean is ‘cerulean’ then use it. Why be inaccurate to avoid confusing someone who can bloody well go buy a box of Crayola? Who never, at least borrowing from a friend, encountered a wisteria crayon? Who has never seen a rose, or white mable? The poor defenseless adjective is the most abused in this respect, but it appears in other places. There may be virtually (or even entirely, depending your frame of mind) no difference in saying ‘with alacrity’ or ‘quickly’ but maybe there is good reason to use alacrity. Don’t avoid the words – after extensive and exhaustive research I’ve concluded that, barring telegraphs, words are all cheap, even the big ones. And screw all that, maybe you actually meant ‘expeditiously’?

Is it necessary to write only the simple sentence? Have people truly stooped below the humble goldfish for attention span and short term memory such that we cannot comprehend a compound, complex, or compund-complex sentence? The comma, semicolon, and colon are our friends – friends who feel lonely and neglected. Or what of our poor buddies the hyphen and dash?

We should ‘ponder’ as well as ‘think’. We should not be afraid of our greatest and most important tools of our craft. The punctuation, sentence construction, and all else that comprise language are the vessels by which the beautiful landscapes of our imaginations may be transmitted to others. We should cherish and nurture, build upon, and care for them. Yet there are among some creative writing texts and classes the expressed notion that one should use the simplest and most base language you can, because god forfend you accidentally commit the mortal sin of cliché; even if the girl is raven haired, or even if the exact colour of his eyes is sapphire (I have a very visual mind … I love colours; if you’re hoping for different examples don’t hold your breath) they teach you to say black and to say blue. I’ve little exposure to journalism classes, but to judge by the horrendous state of the writing quality of much modern journalism (including that which is read by the TV anchors) I suspect little difference in that realm.

Of course, too, there’s the cult of political correctness. Musn’t call a thing what it is because of connotations. I’m sorry, but lame and crippled mean quite specific things. Differently abled, on the other hand, could just mean she can tie a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue. Retarded has a specific meaning, okay a few, in slang it means to say someone is not operating to an acceptable mental par, but ought to be capable of it, in not-slang it means that someone or something’s development is stunted. So something may retard flammability, or a person’s mental development might be retarded. Mentally challenged, by comparison, could just mean Steve Wozniak‘s particular bit of brain damage which meant he had to relearn long term memory storage. We’re afraid to be accurate because someone may become offended. “A rose by any other name …” you cannot change a thing by renaming it. Doing so simply makes a new slang. One with a handicap is no more able to dance a Viennese Waltz by calling him physically challenged. All you’ve done is create ambiguity. It’s back around to blue or cerulean. Is it jet black, or midnight? Is it hot as Hell or sweltering? Idiom, expression, they’re beautiful things.

Now some political correctness is understandable. For example, if it’s a word that has no positive or purely descriptive meaning. While one may use, if done in the name of character accuracy, ‘nigger’ (I refuse to type ‘n-word’, you’ll think the damned thing either way so avoiding its use is stupid), one should certainly not use it in casual narration. That shouldn’t be a hard and fast rule, though … perhaps the narrator has use of the word as I just did, but if you don’t need the word you ought to select another. Why? It’s a word that has only recently gained any positive meaning. Its strict dictionary definition is that of an insult. Even its borderline positive use is in very specific context or it becomes, at best, neutral or just as rude as ever. That word has not shifted meaning sufficiently for casual use, and it should be the business of those who it was devised to put down to determine its fate. Till that is done let’s set it by the side. There’re other similar things, but I should hope you get the point already. The important thing to remember is, at least in English, context accounts for much. The word is not what is negative or hurtful, a word is only sounds. Laxopickleder is nonsense, or it could mean a kind of fish, or it could be a horrible comment about a gentleman’s lack of sexual discretion … it depends on usage, on context, and on the accepted purpose. For now it is foolishness but, once, so was muggle.

I guess, ultimately, I’m just saying that, as writers, we just might have a responsibility to avoid the trends and fads that come and go in language (excepting dialogue, of course!) and we ought to strive to prevent the devolution of the language. That, regardless of journalist or novelist, poet or biographer, we should care for our tools as would a carpenter or mason. That doesn’t just mean keeping our typewriters in tune, our pens full of ink, or our computer harddrives virus free. We should take equal care of and equal (possibly greater?) pride in our language so that our meaning is clear, at least, to this generation. There is no helping if future generations understand us or not. Language evolves, words and grammars come and go. Latin is dead, old Norsk and new are hardly the same thing, Chaucer in the original would be more likely understood by a German than an Englishman these days.

Even if we write for young children, while our language ought, by necessity, to be simpler; we should not aim for the lowest denominator. Dr Seuss assumed a measure of intelligence and thought in his readers. Perhaps if we expect our readers, as did he, to have intellects and the ability to think then not only will our works have room to be more vivid, but maybe we’ll impact those who read us. Maybe they’ll have greater vocabularies, keep their infinitives unsplit, and ensure their subjects are in agreement with their verbs.