Frozen in time?

Two ideas:

1. While London was undergoing arguably the period of greatest growth and change in its history, the London perpetuated in literature barely changed:

Even as physical London expanded madly, fictional London stayed small, contained within the historic city center and the wealthy West End… The rest of London—where most of the growth was actually taking place—never really mattered. In the course of the nineteenth century, real London radically changed—and fictional London hardly at all.

Sarah Laskow for Atlas Obscura

2. We all have some concept of London as a snowy winter wonderland because Charles Dickens grew up in an Ice Age:

There happened to be snow every Christmas of the first eight years of Charles Dickens’ life, which probably explains why white Christmases are a consistent feature of his stories. His snowy childhood has its origins in the colder climate of the period 1550-1850 when Britain was in the grip of a ‘Little Ice Age’. Winters were particularly persistent and severe – 1813-14 was the last winter that a ‘frost fair’ was held on the frozen River Thames in London. Before the change of calendar in 1752, which effectively brought Christmas day back by 12 days, snow was even more likely as Christmas comes at the beginning of the season for snow. Wintry weather is more likely in January.

QI

And two observations:

  1. If writers only write what they’re familiar with, and readers only read what they’re comfortable with, the blinkers stay on.
  2. The stories we read (or see or hear) don’t always tell the whole story. Nobody’s life is as beautiful as their Instagram account, and it’s probably unwise to get all your news from Twitter. (Man, I swear I was writing cautionary Media Law essays about this a decade ago, and yet here we are.)

Anyway, to my main point: Read something you wouldn’t usually read today. It doesn’t have to be long, although more than 140 characters is a good idea.

  • Don’t much go for finance? Pick a story on Bloomberg.
  • A sucker for political analysis? Get some poetry in you.
  • Head-in-the-clouds fiction lover? Take a moment for something sober.
  • Filling your days with serious work and serious learning and serious thoughts? Take a break for something silly.
  • Don’t really read anything much (except this blog, it seems)? Read anything!

 

Don’t be like 1800s literary London. Expand your horizons. Realise there are perspectives other than your own. Open your mind and pop something new in there. Knowledge is a known antidote for fear of the unknown.

 

PS. I wasn’t expecting to get from Dickens to Instagram, but in 2017 that’s somehow not so surprising.

It’s been a while…

I’ve been remiss. I’m nestled Smaug-like on a mountain of internet gems, but like so many bedside reading lists, it just sits there getting taller while I get distracted by work and blizzards and month-long holidays* and the whole country slipping into a nightmare parallel universe where it seems no-one has read Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Although at least two of these things do warrant significant attention, I’ve realised it’s also important to feed one’s brain with nourishing information and analysis not related to the coming apocalypse — at least every now and then.

So I’m going to focus on my forté — reading things about words then sharing those things with anyone who will listen — while keeping it mostly non-political (which is not the same as apolitical).

…Okay except for maybe this one thing.

A new Facebook event called “Bury the White House in Books on Valentine’s Day!” is urging opponents to send the president mountains of his least favorite form of entertainment.

 

*Go to Palm Springs in winter; you won’t regret it.

@: The fulcrum of our digital identities

The Unlikely Evolution of  @ (@ Fast Company) 

Once a bookkeeper’s shorthand, @ has become the fulcrum of our digital identities. How did that happen?

“In Danish, the symbol is known as an “elephant’s trunk a”; the French call it an escargot. It’s a streudel in German, a monkey’s tail in Dutch, and a rose in Istanbul. In Italian, it’s named after a huge amphora of wine…

In 1971, a keyboard with a vestigial @ symbol inherited from its typewriter ancestors found itself hooked up to an ARPANET terminal manned by Ray Tomlinson…

“It’s difficult to imagine anyone in Tomlinson’s situation choosing anything other than the ‘@’ symbol, but his decision to do so at the time was inspired,” explains Houston on his blog. “Firstly, it was extremely unlikely to occur in any computer or user names; secondly, it had no other significant meaning for the operating system on which it would run, and lastly, it read intuitively–user ‘at’ host.”

READ THIS POST because it’s wonderful. I especially love the identification of @ as the fulcrum of an email address. Because it IS one!

And then if you can resist pre-ordering Keith Houston’s upcoming book you’re a stronger person than I. (Come on. It’s called Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation. How could I/you resist?) 

A Kindleworm by any other name (and exciting news for OED lovers)

[EDIT: Sadly, http://www.oed.com no longer works, and even the link to it from Oxford Dictionaries Online is broken. Sincerest apologies on my behalf for getting us all excited, and for not realising sooner.]

The straw that finally broke my anti-Kindle camel’s back was the fact that Kindle comes loaded with the full Oxford English Dictionary [ALSO EDIT: I meant (and still mean) the Oxford Dictionary OF English. I unforgivably use OED as a generic term, though I know there are some who would drop a thesaurus on my head for such an offence.], thus overcoming the two main obstacles previously prohibiting my access to said lexicographical bible: price, and bulk. (My only other accessway was online, through the student login left over from my university days. Not coincidentally, that student login is my favourite souvenir as an alumnus).

Anyway, I bought a Kindle as soon as I realised this (while playing Scrabble in a Kindle-owning friend’s dictionary-less house). And thereafter, when asked whether Kindle “is good?”, my most likely answer has been “IT HAS THE *WHOLE* OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY *IN* IT. YES is good.”

Now this doesn’t mean I no longer love ‘real’ books. I do. Very much.

I have an inconveniently large number of books in my new home. (At least, relocating them from my old home — and chromatically arranging them again — was inconvenient.)

I also have one of these…

bookworm

…on my desk at work.

Yes, it’s a giant fuzzy bookworm, otherwise known as helluo librorum.

WAIT A MINUTE.

Helluo librorum.

The OED is online!

Free!

Searchable!

No subscription (or university alumnus login) required!


And @OxfordWords tweets the Word Of The Day!

Now this doesn’t mean I no longer love Kindle…

.

The book[ing] desk

{ Information desk, via FFFFOUND!}

I’m not sure I’d trust information sourced from behind a desk made of books that clearly can’t be opened for information-sourcing purposes, but I would certainly trust the person who designed said desk.

It’s rather reminiscent of that favourite chromatically arranged bookshelf of mine:

{ from Periodic tables of everything, which is definitely a related post }

Em dashes and En dashes: A breadth of difference

– – — – –

An em dash (—) can be used for almost anything: instead of a colon (such as the preceding), to replace parentheses (such as the preceding, and current), or just to represent a sudden change of direction in logic*.

An en dash (–) is somewhat more limited in its utility. Limited to two uses, in fact: firstly, as shorthand for “from” and “to”, à la 9am–5pm; and secondly, to hyphenate two words where one is actually part of another word pairing. As in “post–afternoon tea“, or”anti–Tony Abbott“.

On the other hand, ordinary single pairings like “long, dark tea-time” and “anti-troglodyte” (respectively) require nothing wider than a hyphen.

Based on Mental Floss (where knowledge junkies get their fix). ]

– – — – –

{ via ilovetypography }

– – — – –

So the next time someone tries to tell you there’s no difference between an em dash and an en dash, might I suggest you draw their attention to the difference between forMication and forNication?


And if they STILL insist that the difference doesn’t matter, why not offer to release a bucket of crawling, gnashing ants in their general direction.


– – — – –


* But not all at once. Consider the absurdity of the following:

“Em dashes can be used for almost anything — instead of a colon — such as the preceding — to replace parentheses — such as the preceding, and current — or just to represent a sudden change of direction in logic.”

… THAT doesn’t work at all.