Sunday, 31 August 2008

interstitiality as a word to enliven our world

A voice on the radio shot a word into my sleepy brain this morning. It was interstitiality.

I had set my alarm to 'snooze' so I could slide back into that delicious half-awake state that begins the day. Suddenly I was focused, because the words coming from the speaker were so beautiful. Margaret Coffey, on the ABC program Encounter was interviewing a Catholic priest, a yogi and a Tibetan Buddhist monk who have set up an interfaith community in Melbourne.

I had a vague idea that the word interstice means the spaces in between atoms. So what did that have to do with spirituality? Swami Samnyasanand, who comes from a Himalayan yoga tradition, explained that the three men regard themselves as representing an interstitial zone in the spiritual life of our community - a meeting place. Water meets land, or day meets night. Dawn. Sunset. Beach. River bank.

These have been the subject of poetry and storytelling from ancient times. Powerful images.

The Swami spoke about the beauty of the sea at sunrise and sunrise and described the way you can sit there in silence to experience the moment where time and place intersect. I think we've all had experiences where we become sparklingly aware of the life of the world around us. It adds an extra dimension for me to be able to put a name to this kind of moment.

I had encountered the word before today, but now I know it in a different way. I think it will stay with me.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

talking to authors

This evening I went to Rendezvous, the Romance Bookshop, because a group of well-known writers were signing their books. They are in Australia for the Romance Writers of Australia Conference, which finished three days ago.

I felt hesitant to go, because I tend to freeze when I meet authors and usually produce a glacial silence, interspersed with bursts of gibberish as I try to squeeze out some intelligent talk. But my sister was the keen fan tonight, so I felt relatively relaxed; I was just moral support.

And then she wandered off.

There I was standing beside Jo Beverley. I've read many of her novels, but 'author phobia' set in and I couldn't remember any of them. I thought I'd better say something, so I asked, 'How much research do you need to do, considering you know your period so well?' It seemed a safe enough question, because I know her historical detail is always accurate.

And the conversation went from there. It was inspiring to a wannabe writer like myself.

Here's some of what I remember of the discussion.
  • Her plot evolves as the events and characters lead her.
  • If she didn't take pleasure in writing a book, it's likely her readers wouldn't enjoy it either.
  • She usually works about four hours a day.
  • Generally she will read back a couple of hundred words of what she wrote the previous day as she starts a new session.
  • She doesn't let her 'internal critic' loose on the first draft and if she can't think of a particular word, she types in symbols as place-holders.

In describing her technique for building characters, Jo used the metaphor of a sculptor building a figure in clay. First she pulls together a rough shape and then adds layers of detail. Which gives me the chance I've been waiting for - to use my newest verbal acquisition. Her characters are made of clay but they don't have argillaceous feet.

And if you don't know what that second-last word means, you might like to subscribe to one of my favorite email services - A. Word. A. Day. If you do, you'll get one interesting or unusual word mailed to you each day.

Today's word was 'argillaceous'; meaning made of, resembling, or relating to clay: clayey.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The love of neologisms

Forty years ago I fell in love with a German.

A German word, that is.

The word was meinetwegen. Its silky syllables rolled off my tongue and I've been using it ever since. To me it means in my opinion. Today, my sister asked me which one of her fabric designs I preferred and I pointed to one and said, "That one - meinetwegen".

But here's the rub.

I just now looked it up in a German dictionary and discovered I'm using it incorrectly. So, do I have to stop using it? My family know what I mean, and they're the only ones who hear it.

Where do words get their meanings? I think it's by mutual agreement between speaker and listener, and that's why words can morph into new creatures - neologisms - over time. Take the example of the extraordinary change in the meaning of that all-purpose word, nice; it evolved from meaning foolish to denoting agreeable.

Words are all around us. They define the way we experience the world. I love discovering new words, whether they are accidents of history or deliberately coined. A visit to Word Spy, a 'site devoted to lexpionage, the sleuthing of new words and phrases' reveals the extent of change in our language.

I'm starting this blog to express my love of language. I'd love to hear from you if you share my passion.