Tuesday, 5 November 2013

If you don't know, look it up

I got a review this week - well, I term it a review, it was more of a complaint.
They wanted to draw to my attention that I had used a word in a story that they didn’t understand. The first thing I did was search my fanfic inbox. I have never received a message or a review from this person before. And maybe they changed their username or something, but probably not. This whole review is a complaint about this word. They have not started with ‘I was really enjoying your story, when…’ and they have read nearly forty chapters of it.
I look up their profile. I reply. I am polite. They are American, I am not. That word means something different to you than it does to me because we speak different versions of English. I say that my betas are American and usually catch things, but they are used to my language now and sometimes words slip through.
They reply. They insist that the dictionary definition is a different meaning. Yes, it is, because your dictionary is different to mine. (duh)
I ask: do you really want me to change that word? It is very early in the morning my time and I have not had enough coffee yet.
No. They were just letting me know. They insist that they (as one reader) were thrown out of the story by that word and that I should add a definition of each word that they might not understand because they felt it was Australian slang. They object to having to go look it up.
It isn’t slang… it’s English. At this point I get annoyed.
Oh, the horror. They might have to look something up.
This story has over a million hits and more than three thousand reviews. No one else has ever had an issue with this word. It has even been translated into French and she understood what I meant. The word is a homonym and it is blindingly obvious that her definition doesn’t fit in the sentence.
I can’t add a definition for every possible word that someone might have an issue with. I can’t recognise them to start, because I don’t have an issue with them. And this month I had readers from 109 countries. I can’t begin to guess what people might not comprehend.
I’d define Aussie slang, but I don’t use it. [Oh, I did once, in my weredingo fic. I spelled Australia as Austraylya. That’s how we say it. And I got a review from an Australian telling me that I had spelt it wrong … snorks.]
So what do I do when I hit a word I don’t know? I look it up.
I love looking up words. I read at my son’s piano lessons and I often ask to borrow her dictionary to look something up. I know that she has a wonderfully fat and enormous dictionary. It is literally a weighty tome.
This week it was rubefascient*.
Last time it was tenebrous**.
I love both those words and I will try to use them in my writing because they are beautiful words. I am thrilled to have new words to use.
I have a very vague recollection of the children in ‘the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ playing a game they called dictionary when they had nothing to do and before they decided to play hide and seek and found the wardrobe. They would flip to a random page in the dictionary and they had to guess if the word origin was Latin or Greek. What fun! Very vague but I am sure they played this game before they went exploring. Or was it in the Dawn Treader? Before they jumped into the painting? Shrugs. Whatever. The point was that children used to play games based on language.
How tragic is the loss to our languages, both American English and Australian English, if we only ever used the same words; the words that people know and don’t have to look up? Language is a constantly evolving thing. So don’t be scared or annoyed that you have to look things up. Embrace it!
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*Rubefascient: means red cheeked. The sentence was “There was clearly something in the water of Ireland to make its people rubefascient.” From Peter Temple’s Jack Irish.
**Tenebrous: means dark, shadowy or obscure. I can’t remember the line but it was in Peter Straub’s Shadowland.
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PS: The word the reviewer objected to was ‘grizzle’ Ironic eh? Given that was what they were doing - grizzling. lmao
English definition of “grizzle”
verb [I]       /ˈɡrɪz.əl/ disapproving
› (especially of a young child) to cry continuously but not very loudly, or to complain all the time:
The baby was cutting a tooth and grizzled all day long.
They're always grizzling (= complaining) about how nobody invites them anywhere.
(Definition of grizzle verb from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)