For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
July 25, 2001 - My Fascination with the Mother Tongue
It all started in 7th grade. I got caught in a study hall with nothing to read and no homework to do. I rooted around in my desk and found a dictionary. I started reading it ... and got hooked.
That particular dictionary also gave word roots. So I not only got to soak up different meanings, but I began to get a sense of where the word had come from, and how meanings shifted through each linguistic turn.
Thus began a lifelong fascination with the English language. My home library now includes several dictionaries (including a miniaturized version of the Oxford English Dictionary that requires a magnifying glass), and a smattering of books about the development of the English tongue.
This interest, I have learned, is shared by many. An example is the popular "Word A Day" email newsletter. It happens that I got this as a surprise gift from our Library Board President. But you can sign up yourself at wordsmith.org/awad/subscribe.html. The subscription is absolutely free.
What do you get? Well, here's one of the daily messages I saved:
paramnesia (par-am-NEE-zhuh) noun
1. A distortion of memory in which fact and fantasy are confused.
2. The inability to recall the correct meaning of a word.
[New Latin, par-, amnesia.]
"God's attention, then loss of attention, his control, then loss of control over the actions of the squirming and chanting boot jacks, is consistent with Ellis's discussion of paramnesia."
Dennis Ryan, `A Divine Gesture': Hemingway's complex parody of the modern, Hemingway Review, Fall 1996.
In other words, you get the pronunciation, definitions, and a use of the word in a sentence. The words are usually grouped in a week by some theme. The above was part of the theme of "Words for ailments and afflictions."
And this comes every day. Some, like the one above, can be most apt. Here's another favorite:
"pococurante (po-ko-koo-RAN-tee, ) adjective. Indifferent, apathetic, nonchalant. Noun - A careless or indifferent person." When you need a word like that, you need it NOW.
The same folks also send an occasional summary of subscriber comments, or "A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages." The most recent I've received is Issue 39, dated July 22, 2001. It's a mixed bag. It can have an intercontinental tilt: as in a recommendation of Victor Hugo's "The Man Who Laughs," to an explanation of the French use of the suffix "-ard" to add insult. A subscriber writes, "For instance, while chauffeur in French means driver-- not just the limo kind: Chauffeur de taxi means, simply taxi driver-- 'chauffard' is slang for someone who drives badly." Also included in the issue is a fond remembrance of the old cartoon "Underdog," and this classic comment from someone currently stationed on an aircraft carrier (USS Constellation) deployed to the Persian Gulf: "Now when we enter another foreign port, we can sound a little more educated as we make our way to the local bars and tattoo parlors."
For more reading about our wonderful language, I recommend,"The Story of English," by Robert McCrum, Robert MacNeil, and William Cran, which is an outstanding companion to the BBC series of the same name. Another favorite is Bill Bryson's, "The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got that Way."
"The difference between the right word, and the almost right word, is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." - Mark Twain.-