Brilliant article on Google, plus an English teaching thing

Did you see Tim Adams on Google and the future of search: Amit Singhal and the Knowledge Graph? It appeared online on 19 January, but I only caught up with it via the ink-and-paper Guardian Weekly on Friday. It is a major must-read.

Thinking about Google over the last week, I have fallen into the typically procrastinatory habit of every so often typing the words "what is" or "what" or "wha" into the Google search box at the top right of my computer screen. Those prompts are all the omnipotent engine needs to inform me of the current instant top 10 of the virtual world’s most urgent desires. At the time of typing, this list reads, in descending order:

What is the fiscal cliff
What is my ip
What is obamacare
What is love
What is gluten
What is instagram
What does yolo mean
What is the illuminati
What is a good credit score
What is lupus

It is a list that indicates anxieties, not least the ways in which we are restlessly fixated with our money, our bodies and our technology – and paranoid and confused in just about equal measure. A Prince Charles-like desire for the definition of love, in my repetitive experience of the last few days, always seems to come in at No 4 on this list of priorities, though the preoccupations above it and below it tend to shift slightly with the news.

The list also supports another truism: that we – the billion components of the collective questioning mind – have got used to asking Google pretty much anything and expecting it to point us to some kind of satisfactory answer. It’s long since become the place most of us go for knowledge, possibly even, desperately, for wisdom. And it is already almost inconceivable to imagine how we might have gone about finding the answer to some of these questions only 15 years ago without it – a visit to the library? To a doctor? To Citizens Advice? To a shrink?

That was the time, in the prehistory of about 1995, when our ideas of "search" still carried the sense of the word’s Latin roots – a search was a kind of "arduous quest" that invariably involved "wandering" and "seeking" and "traversing". Not any longer. For those who are growing up to search in this millennium, it implies nothing more taxing than typing two words into a box – or, increasingly, mumbling them into a phone – and waiting less than an instant for a comprehensive answer, generally involving texts and images and films and books and maps. Search’s sense of questing purpose has already gone the way of other pre-Google concepts, such as "getting lost".

That rate of change – of how we gather information, how we make connections and think – has been so rapid that it invites a further urgent Google question. Where will search go next?…

Now the bits on education.

e0578fec1b858a174a99dacbb9b5d750a3556b90Ages ago I moaned about our pollies, Julia Gillard and/or Kevin Rudd specifically at the time, were looking in some of the wrongest places for policy ideas. See for example Memo to Julie Gillard and Kevin RuddThe real education revolution…, Education: wrong path, Ms Gillard?, The promised education post and in 2012 A must read: Schools We Can Envy by Diane Ravitch.   Now via Smashwords I have a freebie eBook which promises much: Mark Wilson, You Are An English Teacher! (2013).

A Guide To The True Basics – for Parents, Pupils, Pedagogues, Politicians…Presidents and probably even Prime Ministers. A trip through the learning of English as a mother tongue from minute one onwards. The resurrection of common sense, intuition, and the syllabus that’s always been here.

Mark Wilson sounds like an interesting person, and I am sure he was a good English teacher (in the UK). I have been reading this book with some pleasure, as much of it is refreshingly sensible. On the other hand from an ESL perspective his thesis leaves much still to account for. His assumption seems to be a monolingual childhood. Now in the UK that is most people, even today.

Polish is now the main language spoken in England and Wales after English and Welsh, according to 2011 census data released by the Office of National Statistics.

The language-speaking figures recorded for the first time from a survey of 56.1 million residents of England and Wales show 546,000 speak Polish. It is now the second main language in England. There are still slightly more Welsh speakers in Wales at 562,000.

The next biggest main languages are the south Asian languages of Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati, followed by Arabic, French, Chinese and Portuguese. The statisticians said they recorded over 100 different languages and 49 main languages with more than 15,000 users…

Some of the languages are in a tiny minority. For example, there was only one person in Barnet who said they spoke Caribbean creole and one person in Bexley.

58 people speak Scottish Gaelic, 33 speak Manx Gaelic and 629 speak Romany…

One million households have no residents with English as a main language, although most had some proficiency in English, the ONS said.

Only 138,000 people could not speak English at all.

"The West Midlands is the region with the lowest percentage of people that can speak English very well or well at 72%" said Roma Chappell, census director. It was the region that also had the highest number of people who can’t speak English at all.

Compare:

In Australia 76.8% of people only spoke English at home. Other languages spoken at home included Mandarin 1.6%, Italian 1.4%, Arabic 1.3%, Cantonese 1.2% and Greek 1.2%.  20.4% of Australians live in households where two or more languages are spoken. Only 53.7% of Australians have both parents born in Australia.

Even so, while as an ESL teacher I have some reservations, I still commend Mark Wilson’s book. An extract:

William Blake said if others had not been foolish, we should be so. I think that’s a pretty good definition of progress.

When the feeling that something was wrong, not with children but with the school system itself, stirred once more within the country about twenty years ago, because businesses and universities were complaining that children were leaving school unable to spell, write essays, needed ‘the basics’ and so on; a popular question with regard to English was: “How much should we teach children about language?”

This always sounded strangely proprietorial to me, as if the people who were saying it thought they actually owned language. Anyway, it merely signalled the next bitter battle in the political wars which are fought on the battleground of education.

But, for reasons I hope I’ve made clear, my answer then, as now, is this: What we really know about language is surprisingly little, but of excellent quality. Our real, shared, knowledge of language, amounts to the true conventions of English and the many ways people have used them effectively down through the years. I think we should teach children all that we really know about language, and study lots of famous writers and speakers. The earlier we provide an environment which allows them to use and develop these conventions within their own psyches, the better. There can be no doubt that families are intended to be a child’s first language teachers….

In the meantime, though, individuals have the opportunity to improve matters for themselves and for their children right away. If we are to avoid the mere repetition of the past fifty years or so, we must look for something beyond the old arguments between grammarians and their anti antagonists; which is what I have done here. And there is nothing at all to stop us from teaching communication through language intensively to deprived children, in schools, right now.

When I started planning this book, I was determined that it should be a very slim volume, easy on the eye, and yet it should be an adequate alternative to the growing mountain of, for me, unreadable academic publications. But this book is also intended to serve, in future times, as an alternative to the gross irresponsibility which will surely follow when the fashion pendulum swings back again.

But, ideally, the reader may simply look at children and see that the teaching of a language is an activity which is more important, and a lot less complicated, than any particular political ideology. Nevertheless, ‘developments’ in education during the twenty years of my career have seemed to be attempts to make my classroom feel less a lively and welcoming place for learning, than a sanctuary threatened by the hostile encroachment of a nearby factory. For all the money spent, the shouting, the initiatives, and the targets, I go into schools while I write this book and things look much the same in the teaching and learning of English. There has always been brilliance, and there has always been deprivation, but now there is a lot more stress and bother.

Some children do as well as the current system allows them to in English. But there are many others in mainstream classes who still cannot read or write properly. Yet they are set tasks which require them to do just that, and when this happens they are frustrated and badly behaved, as you might expect. At the beginning of this book I suggested that we need to work towards a definitive and durable syllabus for the teaching of the subject we all know and love as ‘English’? Do I think there really could be such a thing?

There always has been.

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Misoneism?

Is that all it is? The hatred or distrust of new things or ideas?

Australia’s Prime Minister did not define “misogyny” wrong in a blistering attack on a male rival, the dictionary did.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s fiery speech last week in which she branded conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott a misogynist for a string of allegedly sexist comments he had made in recent years has been lauded by feminists around the world.

However, Ms. Gillard’s critics have accused her of hyperbole, pointing to dictionary definitions of misogyny as hatred of women.

Sue Butler, Editor of the Macquarie Dictionary, regarded as the definitive authority on Australian meanings of words, said on Wednesday the political furore revealed to her fellow Editors that their dictionary’s definition was decades out of date.

The dictionary would broaden its definition from a hatred of women to include entrenched prejudice against women, she said.

“Since the 1980s, ‘misogyny’ has come to be used as a synonym for sexism, a synonym with bite, but nevertheless with the meaning of ‘entrenched prejudice against women’ rather than ‘pathological hatred’”, she said.

Ms. Gillard’s speech in Parliament last week came after Mr. Abbott attempted to move a motion to oust the House of Representatives Speaker Peter Slipper over crude and sexist terms Mr. Slipper made in text messages that came to light in a court case.

“If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives; he needs a mirror,” Ms. Gillard told Parliament. “Misogyny, sexism every day from this leader of this opposition.”

She complained Mr. Abbott had questioned in a media interview whether it was a bad thing that men had more power than women in Australian society and had described abortion as “the easy way out”.

Ms. Gillard said she was offended when Mr. Abbott once told her in Parliament — “If the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself …”

The term “making an honest woman” in Australia traditionally refers to a man marrying a woman with whom he has had a sexual relationship. Ms. Butler said while the Oxford English Dictionary had expanded its definition of the word from a psychological term to include its contemporary meaning a decade ago, it took the debate over Ms. Gillard’s speech to prompt Macquarie to review its definition.

She said the decision had drawn complaints.

Among the critics is Senator Fiona Nash, a member of Mr. Abbott’s coalition, who accused Macquarie of making the change to suit Ms. Gillard’s centre-left Labour Party.

Ms. Gillard and Mr. Abbott declined to comment on the change.

That is from The Hindu, reflecting both the amazing international interest in Julia Gillard’s now famous speech, and the fact of course that Ms Gillard has been lately visiting India.

Julia Gillard Prime Minister Julia Gillard 9I3q2VcdPwfl

First, you will have noted that I was conservative in my attitude to the word misogyny last time I mentioned it, endorsing Annabel Crabb’s opinion that misogyny was a “big call” as an accurate descriptor for Tony Abbott. She cited the Oxford Dictionary. However, the illustrative citation on the Oxford Dictionary web site is “she felt she was struggling against thinly disguised misogyny” – which perhaps reflects, if you think about it, more the sense in which Julia Gillard and others have used the word.

david-malki-in-which-there-is-taunting

Whatever you may think of the Macquarie Dictionary modifying its definition of misogyny, the assertion that it is “making the change to suit Ms. Gillard’s centre-left Labour Party” is nonsense. On reflection, whether you like it or not, it is clear that a combination of contemporary usage and academic specialist usage has extended (or weakened?) the meaning of the word, and that this predates what happened a few days ago in the Australian parliament. Some idea of this shifting of meaning may be gleaned from Wikipedia and from About.com.

Definition: Misogyny means the hatred of women. The word comes from the Greek misein, to hate and gyne, woman. Misogyny is often used to describe contempt for women as a whole, rather than hatred of specific women.

In feminist theory, misogyny often describes an attitude that is perceived to be negative and demeaning toward women as a group. While it is rare to find someone who actually despises all women just because they are female, feminists more commonly observe prejudice against women or an assumption that women are less deserving than men. This usually leads to actions that harm women. People, usually men, who display hateful behaviors that oppress women are said to be misogynists.

Feminists and other scholars have often discussed misogyny in religion. They have examined the misogyny behind historical incidents such as the Salem witch trials and social traditions such as polygyny.

It is entirely appropriate for the Macquarie – or any dictionary – to take account of the development of the word as shown in the paragraph I have highlighted.

People can be very naive about dictionaries, but also very passionate or protective. See Descriptivism vs. prescriptivism: War is over (if you want it) from Stan Cary’s Sentence First. See also Joan Acocella in The New Yorker.

For a long time, many English speakers have felt that the language was going to the dogs. All around them, people were talking about “parameters” and “life styles,” saying “disinterested” when they meant “uninterested,” “fulsome” when they meant “full.” To the pained listeners, it seemed that they were no longer part of this language group. To others, the complainers were fogies and snobs. The usages they objected to were cause not for grief but for celebration. They were pulsings of our linguistic lifeblood, proof that English was large, contained multitudes.

The second group was right about the multitudes. English is a melding of the languages of the many different peoples who have lived in Britain; it has also changed through commerce and conquest. English has always been a ragbag, and that encouraged further permissiveness. In the past half century or so, however, this situation has produced a serious quarrel, political as well as linguistic, with two combatant parties: the prescriptivists, who were bent on instructing us in how to write and speak; and the descriptivists, who felt that all we could legitimately do in discussing language was to say what the current practice was. This dispute is the subject of “The Language Wars: A History of Proper English” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), by the English journalist Henry Hitchings, a convinced descriptivist…

Writing about such matters has been a staple of letters to the editor for as long as I can remember, and I guess that’s not entirely a bad thing – but oh my, what a lot of nonsense has been generated! For some common sense see linguist David Crystal’s “Thinking about Dictionaries” (PDF).  See also his blog, for example On complaining about the tide coming in (2006):

A journalist from the Observer, writing a ’fun piece’ for the Christmas edition, phones today to ask my views about the way some English words have become ‘loaded’. She had apparently read a piece in the current issue of the journal of the Queen’s English Society in which someone is complaining about the way certain words have changed their strength of meaning – likemassive being reduced in power to mean ‘huge’ (as in ‘a massive heart attack’) or incredible used so as to mean ‘very fine’ (as in ‘an incredible restaurant’)…

The writer is against people loading words ‘with powers beyond their meaning in the dictionary’. If that was a valid principle – you must only use words with the meaning recorded in the dictionary – English vocabulary would hardly have developed at all, and we would have cut ourselves off from the kind of expressive richness we see in, say, Shakespeare, who was one of the best meaning-extenders the world has ever seen. It is also a misconception of how dictionaries come to be written: lexicographers record meanings as they change, and if there is a widely used meaning currently missing from a dictionary’s pages then it is a weakness of the dictionary rather than of the language.

But the writer was wrong, in any case. Factually wrong. The senses of massive, incredible, and so on are in the dictionary, and have been for some time. But ignorance of the facts of English usage has never stopped people complaining about it…

Words change their meaning. To adapt a phrase rapidly becoming a catch-phrase at the moment (courtesy of the Bishop of Southwark): that’s what they do. They are there to help us talk about our world, and as our world changes, or our ways of looking at the world change, so do the words. It is important to be aware that the changes are taking place, of course, so that we are alert to possible ambiguities and misinformation. We need to know that generally is one of those words which writers often use in a misleading way. That is one of the driving forces behind lexicology, and why it is so important: it helps us manage vocabulary change. But to complain about words changing their meaning is as pointless as complaining about the movement of the tides.

Finally, in the course of looking around I saw for the first time the wonderful OUP blog site, specifically entries tagged “dictionaries”. Lovely stuff. For example:

It cannot but come as a surprise that against the background of countless important words whose origin has never been discovered some totally insignificant verbs and nouns have been traced successfully and convincingly to the very beginning of Indo-European. Fart (“not in delicate use”) looks like a product of our time, but it has existed since time immemorial. Even the nuances have not been lost: one thing is to break wind loudly (farting); quite a different thing is to do it quietly (the now obscure “fisting”). (This fist has nothing to do with fist “clenched fingers” and consequently isn’t related to fisting, a sexual activity requiring, as we are warned, great caution and a lot of tender experience. This reminds me of the instruction Sergei Prokofiev gave to his First Piano Concerto: “Col pugno,” that is ‘with a fist’.)

Both words for the emission of wind (fart and fist) were current in the Old Germanic languages. Frata and físa (the accent over the vowel designates its length, not stress) turned up even in Old Icelandic mythological poems. According to a popular tale, the great god Thor was duped by a giant and spent a night in a mitten, which he took for a house. He was so frightened, as his adversary put it, that he dared neither sneeze nor “fist.” In another poem, the goddess Freyja, notorious for her amatory escapades, was found in bed with her brother and farted (apparently shocked by the discovery)….

Those interested in the subject and not only in words may want to read the book by Valerie Allen On Farting: Language and Laughter in the Middle Ages (Palgrave 2007), but should skip the short section on etymology with its erroneous conclusion. Here I will comment on several etymologies about which I have often been asked. Latin perditio(from its oblique case, via Old French, English has perdition) is not allied to the words discussed above. Perdition goes back to the past participle of the verb perdere “destroy; (hence) lose.” It has the prefix per-, and the root –der-, so thatr and d do are separated by a morphemic boundary. But if Latin perdix had the ancient root with r, preserved in Old French perdriz, then its English continuation partridge belongs here. According to the usual explanation, a partridge makes a sharp whirring sound when flushed (and thus behaves not unlike a petard – not an overly convincing etymology).

Engl. petition and petulant, from Old French, have the root of Latin petere “seeks; attack. Pet “peeve” should probably be dissociated from collywobbles and the rest, but for Engl. wolf’s fist ~ wolves’ fist and German Bofist ~ Bovist(originally vohenvist “fox’s fist”) “puffball” reproduce Greek lykóperdon “wolf’s fart” and allegedly like partridge, owe their origin to the sound they make when pressed). Few people will remember that in the days of Nikita Khrushchev the only woman in the Soviet Politburo was Ekaterina Furtseva, the minister of culture. That family name made every mention of her in German media a rude joke, for the Germans of course spelled Furzeva or Furtzeva. However, it was derived from the proper name Firs, not from the German verb…

Also doing the rounds

Jim Belshaw posted something related this morning. He also alluded to the panic attacks in the Murdoch press about a pilot anti-homophobia program in NSW. Here is the announcement of that program from January 2011:

A pilot program designed to tackle homophobia in schools will start this year in 12 public schools across Sydney, the Hunter and the Central Coast.

The $250,000 Proud Schools program aims to build a culture of understanding and respect in NSW public schools through the professional development of school staff, student and parent  workshops and the development of  resources to assist schools build their capacity to support same-sex and gender questioning young people.

Recent national research highlights the impact of homophobic attitudes on young people, including the fact that about two in three same-sex and gender questioning young people reported they had been verbally abused, and that one in five had been physically abused.

The research, conducted by La Trobe University, also showed that the majority of those young people were abused at school and that once the abuse had taken place they no longer felt school was a safe place for them.

Young people who had been abused were also found to be three time more likely to think about harming themselves.

Education minister Verity Firth said bullying or abuse in public schools was not tolerated for any reason.

"That’s why the Proud Schools program aims to replace ignorance with understanding, intolerance with acceptance, and shame with pride," Ms Firth said.

"Proud Schools recognises that for this change to take place whole school communities will need to work together, with parents and teachers playing a key role in identifying and addressing homophobic attitudes."

More from SBS Insight:

The pilot program began this year involves around 12 public high schools across Sydney, the Hunter and the Central Coast.
The aim of the program is to build on the culture of understanding and respect in NSW schools and includes:

Professional development:
In NSW we have sophisticated training materials to help promote awareness among school staff of racial and sexual discrimination, but there are limited training opportunities to help teachers improve their awareness and understanding of discrimination and abuse of same-sex attracted or gender questioning students. Professional learning will be developed that will include key modules for school leaders and school staff.

Supporting resources
Work is being conducted to inform the development of the program and to identify the kinds of resources and support materials available to support staff and students participating in the program. It is important that we identify early in the program how best to assist schools build their capacity to support same-sex attracted and gender questioning young people.

Student workshops
Consultation sessions will be conducted with NSW students to find out what they think needs to be done to help address homophobia in schools.

Parent Workshops
Experience has shown that when school communities work together real improvements in promoting understanding and reducing discrimination can be made. In every pilot school a parent information workshop will be held to explain the aim and goals of the pilotprogram and to seek their input about how the pilot program can be tailored to suit the needs of their local community.

Steering group
A steering group comprising government and non-government agencies has been established to monitor the pilot program. At the end of the pilot it is anticipated that the steering group will provide a series of recommendations that will inform the development of a final Proud Schools program that can be rolled out across the State.

This is pretty much what I and my colleagues were  trying to do during the past decade or so. See my GLBT Resources Page.

The theme of this page may offend some, but my position is that such offence is less than the needless suffering, failure of self-esteem, depression, and even sometimes suicide, that dishonesty about this subject can lead to.

Nor am I advocating a “lifestyle”: to quote from an article mentioned below:

There is a big taboo about converting straight people to homosexuality. (Personally I think the chances of that actually happening are as good as your chances of getting kicked to death by a duck.)

This page is dedicated to understanding at least and acceptance at best.

To quote Jim’s post:

If all this wasn’t enough, I happened to read this story in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph: Being straight no longer normal, students taught. I am not normally a Telegraph reader, but the paper was there while I was waiting. This introduced me to a whole new term that I had yet to hear, heterosexism.

The story was about a pilot program in NSW schools. This appeared to define heterosexism, and I quote from the story,  

….the practice of "positioning heterosexuality as the norm for human relationship," according to the Proud Schools Consultation Report.

"It involves ignoring, making invisible or discriminating against non-heterosexual people, their relationships and their interests. Heterosexism feeds homophobia."

The program should "focus on the dominance of heterosexism rather than on homophobia," according to the minutes from the Proud Schools steering committee on March 22, 2011.

Now given the Telegraph’s usual market positioning, I would be far from certain about the accuracy of the reporting. Even so, heterosexism? It’s really all becoming far too confusing!

Jim spots the problem, as he often does, and I’m afraid I can’t really be bothered following the story too seriously or even reading the crap the Tele (and Miranda Devine) are flinging around. I find that as reported it is at best a total parody of what may really have happened – if anything! (How someone as sane as Maralyn Parker can work in that environment amazes me, but I am glad her balanced views on schools and schooling are there as well.)

Rather than raise my own blood pressure I will let you read what Same Same has had to say.

Toxic newspaper columnist Miranda Devine’s outlandish concern over a new program designed to stamp out homophobic bullying in schools has created a nonsensical front page story today.

The Proud Schools program, being trialed in twelve high schools across New South Wales, simply aims to spread the message that diversity is OK and encourages conversations around homophobia and the use of anti-gay slurs – even the widespread use of terms like ‘that’s so gay’ to mean something best avoided.

“You have the right to be proud of who you are and you have the right to be safe at school,” says the program, which was based on a similar one trialed in Victoria and gained cross-party support in NSW.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph today, Devine points to concerns from several Liberal MPs who believe the program goes too far when it calls for heterosexuality to no longer be portrayed as the only ‘norm’ for relationships.

“It’s not up to academics to dictate attitudes to society via indoctrination of captive children in classrooms, and it’s irresponsible of politicians to allow them to do so,” Devine opined.

She also sought a comment from notoriously anti-gay NSW Upper house MP Fred Nile, who can never resist putting the boot in. “I’m totally opposed to the brainwashing of high school students, especially when they are going through puberty,” he said, labeling the program “propaganda.”

Devine has a history of wading in unhelpfully on LGBT issues – which culminated in her most embarrassingly irrational opinion piece of last year, where she wrote that Finance Minister Penny Wong’s new baby with her female partner was symbolic of a ‘fatherless society’ which results in situations like the London riots.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann is among those who’ve been quick to blast Devine’s views this morning. “Her attempt to stir fear about the Proud Schools program will fall flat because the fact is, people have grown up on this issue – it’s time she did as well,” she says.

“The rest of us have moved on from the days when people thought being gay was somehow abnormal. It’s ‘60s era thinking and Ms Devine should catch up.

“Unfortunately homophobia in schools is still a big issue, with homophobic abuse and bullying causing significant distress and harm to young people. That’s why programs like Proud Schools exist in the first place – to make sure young people understand that same-sex attraction is perfectly normal.”

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has today also defended the Proud Schools pilot program, which he says is helping to assist schools to provide a safe and supportive environment for all students.

Recent national research highlights the impact of homophobic attitudes on young people, including the fact that about two in three same-sex and gender questioning youth reported they had been verbally abused, and that one in five had been physically abused.

Update

I made a messy comment on Jim Belshaw’s post:

My point about The Macquarie and "misogyny" would really be that nothing very extraordinary has happened. The recent kerfuffle alerted Sue Butler and colleagues that something was happening with the word and, on reflection, had been for some time. They responded as modern lexicographers normally do. They were not trying to please anyone.

I then referred to Rewriting the OED as an example of lexicography today –  which is where the comment began to look messy. So:

Today’s OED offices in Oxford and New York are a hive of lexicographical activity. Over seventy editors work on updating the text of the dictionary for its Third Edition (2000-). Every three months the entire OED database is republished online, with new words added for the first time and older entries revised according the exacting standards of modern historical lexicography.

The Oxford English Dictionary is changing. In the first comprehensive revision undertaken since the original volumes were published between 1884 and 1928, every word in the Dictionary is being reviewed to improve the accuracy of definitions, derivations, pronunciations, and the historical quotations.

Every word in the Dictionary is being reviewed…

Once the huge task of updating the existing work is finished, the editors will continue to add new information to the Dictionary database as they receive it, instead of storing it away for the next print revision. Readers will be able to access an online version of the Dictionary, giving them the latest information on every word in the Dictionary as soon as it is inserted in the database. These technological advances, plus the enormous number of content revisions, ensure that the Oxford English Dictionary will be an even more authoritative record of the English language in the twenty-first century…

Today’s historical dictionaries are not monumental, static volumes, but dynamic texts which incorporate up-to-date information and respond rapidly to new information about the language as it comes to light. So how is the Third Edition of the OED being compiled? These are the principal steps in the editorial process:

  • collection and sorting of quotations for individual entries
  • editing of entries (by specialist new-words, scientific, and generalist editors), including the provision of British English and American English pronunciations (and others where necessary)
  • commissioning research on and specialist review of edited entries
  • preparation of etymologies (by the OED‘s Etymology group)
  • verification of bibliographical information for quotations to be published
  • final review by the Chief and Deputy Chief Editor
  • and, only then, publication

I doubt whether in the Macquarie the “new” definition of misogyny will “replace” the current usual definition; rather it will supplement it, perhaps with an added usage note. The dictionary is a record of the language and also, properly used, a guide for speakers and writers, but it is not, despite what so many think, THE holy writ on what words might actually mean in use.

That aside, I really am rather fond of The American Heritage Dictionary myself, you know.

Fascinated by Tyndale…

Political or what? From his Prologue/Translation of Jonah (1531):

tyndale1¶ And in lyke maner sens the world beganne / where soeuer repentaunce was offered and not receaued / there God toke cruell vengeaunce immediatly: as ye se in ye floud of Noe / in the ouerthrowēge of Sodō & Gomor & all the contre aboute: & as ye se of Egipte / of the Amorites / Cananites & afterwarde of the very Israelites / & then at the last of the Iewes to / ād of the Assyriens and Babyloniens and so thorout all the imperes of the world.

¶ Gyldas preached repētaunce vn to ye olde Britaynes that inhabited englōd: they repented not / & therfore God sent in theyr enimies vppō thē on euery side & destroyed thē vpp & gaue the lōd vn to other naciōs. And greate vengeaunce hath bene takē in that lande for synne sens that tyme.

¶ Wicleffe preached repētaunce vn to oure fathers not longe sens: they repēted not for their hertes were indurat & theyr eyes blinded with their awne Pope holy rightwesnesse wherwith they had made theyr soules gaye agenst the receauinge agayne of ye weked spirite that bringeth .vii. worse then hym selfe with him & maketh ye later ende worse then the beginninge: for in open sinnes there is hope of repentaunce / but in holy ypocrisie none at all. But what folowed? they slew their true & right kinge ād sett vpp .iii. wrōge kīges arow / vnder which all the noble bloud was slayne vpp ād halfe the comēs therto / what in fraunce & what with their awne swerde / in fightīge amonge thē selues for ye crowne / & ye cities and townes decayed and the land brought halfe in to a wyldernesse in respecte of that it was before.

¶ And now Christ to preach repētaunce / is resen yet ōce agayne out of his sepulchre in which the pope had buried him and kepte him downe with his pilars and polaxes and all disgysinges of ypocrisie / with gyle / wiles and falshed / ād with the swerd of al princes which he had blynded with his false marchaundice. And as I dowte not of ye ensamples that are past / so am I sure that greate wrath will folow / excepte repētaunce turne it backe agayne and cease it.

See also English Bible History: William Tyndale.

… The printing of this English New Testament in quarto was begun at Cologne in the summer of 1525, and completed at Worms, and that there was likewise printed an octavo edition, both before the end of that year. William Tyndale’s Biblical translations appeared in the following order: New Testament, 1525-26; Pentateuch, 1530; Jonah, 1531.

His literary activity during that interval was extraordinary. When he left England, his knowledge of Hebrew, if he had any, was of the most rudimentary nature; and yet he mastered that difficult tongue so as to produce from the original an admirable translation of the entire Pentateuch, the Books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, First Chronicles, contained in Matthew’s Bible of 1537, and of the Book of Jonah, so excellent, indeed, that his work is not only the basis of those portions of the Authorized King James Version of 1611, but constitutes nine-tenths of that translation, and very largely that of the English Revised Version of 1885…

The Betrayal and Death of William Tyndale

Tyndale was betrayed by a friend, Philips, the agent either of Henry or of English ecclesiastics, or possibly of both. Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned in the castle of Vilvoorden for over 500 days of horrible conditions. He was tried for heresy and treason in a ridiculously unfair trial, and convicted. Tyndale was then strangled and burnt at the stake in the prison yard, Oct. 6, 1536. His last words were, "Lord, open the king of England’s eyes." This prayer was answered three years later, in the publication of King Henry VIII’s 1539 English “Great Bible”.

Tyndale’s place in history has not yet been sufficiently recognized as a translator of the Scriptures, as an apostle of liberty, and as a chief promoter of the Reformation in England. In all these respects his influence has been singularly under-valued. The sweeping statement found in almost all histories, that Tyndale translated from the Vulgate and Luther, is most damaging to the reputation of the writers who make it; for, as a matter of fact, it is contrary to truth, since his translations are made directly from the originals, with the aid of the Erasmus 1516 Greek-Latin New Testament, and the best available Hebrew texts. The Prolegomena in Mombert’s William Tyndale’s Five Books of Moses show conclusively that Tyndale’s Pentateuch is a translation of the Hebrew original.

How did you go with the Tudor English?

And, even allowing for the points made by that enthusiastic historian, just what that Tyndale actually believed has a place in the 21st century? One shudders at so much that followed him, on all sides in Britain, Europe,  and America eventually.

For example, can we still really admire the 18th century Calvinist Jonathan Edwards, “widely acknowledged to be America’s most important and original philosophical theologian”? Or should  we just recoil from the fact that once it was more than OK to attribute such obscene psychopathology to the Creator of the Universe? (And still is among quite a few in the Islamic and Christian worlds…)

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The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.

Thus are all you that never passed under a great change of heart by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin to a state of new and before altogether unexperienced light and life, (however you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, and may be strict in it), you are thus in the hands of an angry God; ’tis nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction.

However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it. Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you see that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things that they depended on for peace and safety were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes, as the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince: and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. ’Tis ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world after you closed your eyes to sleep; and there is no other reason to be given why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you han’t gone to hell since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you don’t this very moment drop down into hell.

My overstuffed (virtual) bookshelf — 5

The only dedicated bookshop in Wollongong itself these days is one of those bargain all books for $5 remainder shops. Given what the rise of eBooks and internet book trading has wrought in the past few years it isn’t hard to see why.

Kobo I and I went to lunch at Diggers today, calling in at the bargain shop on the way.

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Now what I am reading there was published just yesterday: a very conservative but also very good grammar of the English sentence: Traditional English Sentence Style by Robert Einarsson.

This 86 page textbook/workbook promises not only to teach you about grammar, but also to show you the "grammar secrets" of some of the great writers of English. You will learn how writers
like Austen, Lincoln, Yeats and Wells go about composing their writing styles. Through the extensive exercises in this workbook, you will learn to write more like these classic authors of English.This book will improve your knowledge of grammar, and help you develop your own personal writing style.

“A sentence is not a loose or random stream of words.  Instead, every sentence has definite construction and parts within it.  This textbook is based on the study of the internal segments within the sentence.  We will study the sentence in the same way that a botanist studies a flower, or a biologist studies a cell; i.e., we will ask ‘what are the internal parts within this entity?’ and ‘how do the internal parts connect to each other?’  The parts, in the case of sentences, are word clusters of the types that we will identify in the chapters ahead.”

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But I did fall for two “real” books…

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Note that under those two are 1,600 more on Kobo!

The one on the left may be a dud, but the one on the right looks most promising. And when I am on the Eco I will be checking my copy of this on Kobo:

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Sydney University’s English Department failed me…

… and thousands of others in the 60s – and for all I know this may still be the case – by passing over gem after gem in the great diamond mine of English Literature.  Only today has my toilet reading revealed another example of my deprivation.

Let me explain. I have a habit of reading reference books in the toilet. The little nuggets of information can be ingested as other nuggets go their way in the course of nature. Today my text was The Wordsworth Companion to Literature in English ed. Ian Ousby, a handy paperback version of the Cambridge Guide and a truly great toilet read. I have quite possibly read all of it in the bog over the years, but my eye fell today on something new:

Stephen Duck (1705?–1756) was an English poet whose career reflected both the Augustan era’s interest in "naturals" (natural geniuses) and its resistance to classlessness.

Duck was born at born at Charlton, near Pewsey, in Wiltshire, but little is known about his family, whether from Duck himself or from contemporary records, except that they were labourers and very poor. Duck attended a charity school and left at the age of thirteen to begin working in the fields.

Around 1724, he married as his first wife Ann, who died in 1730, and began to attempt to better himself and escape the toil and poverty of agricultural work. He read Milton, Dryden, Prior, and The Spectator, as well as the Holy Bible, according to Joseph Spence. He was "discovered" by Alured Clarke of Winchester Cathedral, and Clarke introduced him to high society. Clarke and Spence (the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University and friend of Alexander Pope) promoted Duck as a sincerely pious man of sober wit. Clarke and Spence saw poetry that Duck was writing, but none of this verse was published. Between 1724 and 1730, he and Ann had three children.

In 1730, Duck combined some of the poetic pieces he had been writing and wrote The Thresher’s Labour, a poem that described the difficulty of field work. The poem was celebrated throughout London society, and he soon wrote The Shunammite, which reflected Duck’s piety and religious imagination. The poet was taken to meet Queen Caroline, and, while he was there, word came of the death of his wife, but Clarke kept the news from Duck until after the interview with the Queen. For her part, she was pleased and gave Duck an annuity and a small house.

Duck continued to write and to be seen as both a paradigm of self-improvement and the natural poet. In 1733, Duck was made a Yeoman of the Guard by the queen, and that year he met and married Sarah Big, Caroline’s housekeeper at Kew. In 1735, Caroline made him keeper of the Queen’s library at Merlin’s Cave in Richmond. During this period, Duck wrote many poems, with increasing polish and urbanity. His Poems in 1736 had both Pope and Jonathan Swift as subscribers.

Swift and Pope both made disparaging remarks or outright satires on Duck. In 1731 to 1733, Swift satirized the poverty of Duck’s rhymes several places. However, both men seemed to like Stephen Duck as a person, and both were impressed by his religious sincerity. When Duck was rumored to be a candidate for the,Laureate this distinction between the private man and the quality of the verse made him a worthy target.

When Queen Caroline died in 1737, Duck was left without a patron and without direct inspiration. He wrote eight very long poems after her death. In 1744, Sarah Big Duck died, and Stephen married again, although this wife’s name is unknown. Duck was ordained in 1746 and became chaplain to Henry Cornwall and then to Ligonier’s forces in 1750 before becoming the chaplain of Kew. He went on to serve as the pastor of Byfleet, Surrey, where he was well liked by his congregation.

The exact date of Duck’s death is unknown, as he committed suicide by drowning between 30 March and 2 April 1756.

Since the 1990s, Duck has seen renewed interest among New Historicist and Marxist literary critics. Duck’s case featured in the The New Eighteenth Century (Landry), and this inspired further critical work. The Donna Landry and William Christmas edited issue of Criticism featured two articles on Duck in 2005.

That’s Wikipedia of course.

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There is a 2011 Tumbler blog called F*ck Yeah Stephen Duck. It includes an extract from the poet:

From “The Thresher’s Labor”

The grateful Tribute of these rural Lays,

Which to her Patron’s hand the Muse conveys,

Deign to accept: ‘Tis just the Tribute bring

To him, whose Bounty gives her Life to sing;

To him, whose gen’rous Favors  tune her Voice;

And bid her, midst her Poverty, rejoice.

Inspir’d by these, she dares herself prepare,

To sing the Toils of each revolving Year;

Those endless Toils, which always grow anew,

And the poor Threshers destin’d to pursue:

Ev’n these with Pleasure, can the Muse rehearse.

When you and Gratitude demand her Verse.

That fan also writes:

This is Stephen Duck. He was an 18th century poet who started off as an agricultural laborer. Other writers of his time, such as Pope, Swift and Dryden used to make fun of his rhymes and writing, but he was a pretty nice guy and a lot of people really liked him, including the aforementioned writers. A lot of people forget he exists, but recently he’s gotten a bit of a following. If you go on Google Books, some of his poetry is available to read for free.

There you go. My toilet Duck, you might say.

There are so many things in the news to comment on…

… some of them just awful, such as those Christmas Day attacks in Nigeria. But I propose to ignore them all in favour of a really nice article in the New York Review of Books. I like Mary Beard’s Do the Classics Have a Future? because am one of those who studied Latin at school and university, and am very glad I did, but also because Mary Beard doesn’t say exactly what you may have expected.

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Robert Browning and his son Robert Barrett Browning in Venice, November 1889

Sample:

… The voices insisting that we should be facing up to the squalor, the slavery, the misogyny, the irrationality of antiquity go back through Moses Finley and the Irish poet and classicist Louis MacNeice to my own illustrious nineteenth-century predecessor in Cambridge, Jane Ellen Harrison. When I should be remembering the glories of Greece, wrote MacNeice memorably in his Autumn Journal,

I think instead
Of the crooks, the adventurers, the opportunists,
The careless athletes and the fancy boys…
…the noise
Of the demagogues and the quacks; and the women pouring
Libations over graves
And the trimmers at Delphi and the dummies at Sparta and lastly
I think of the slaves.

Of course, not everything written on the current state of the classics is irredeemably gloomy. Some breezy optimists point, for example, to a new interest among the public in the ancient world. Witness the success of movies like Gladiator or Stacy Schiff’s biography of Cleopatra or the continuing stream of literary tributes to, or engagements with, the classics (including at least three major fictional or poetic reworkings of Homer in the last twelve months). And against the baleful examples of Goebbels and British imperialism, you can parade a repertoire of more radical heroes of the classical tradition—as varied as Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx (whose Ph.D. thesis was on classical philosophy), and the American Founding Fathers…

You will, I suspect, already have spotted all kinds of different assumptions about what we think “the classics” are underlying the various arguments about their state of health: from something that comes down more or less to the academic study of Latin and Greek to—at the other end of the spectrum—a wider sense of popular interest in the ancient world in all its forms. Part of the reason why people disagree about how “the classics” are doing is that when they talk about “the classics” they aren’t talking about the same thing. I don’t plan to offer a straightforward redefinition. But I am going to pick up some of the themes that emerged in Terence Rattigan’s play to suggest that the classics are embedded in the way we think about ourselves, and our own history, in a more complex way than we usually allow. They are not just from or about the distant past. They are also a cultural language that we have learned to speak, in dialogue with the idea of antiquity. And to state the obvious, in a way, if they are about anybody, the classics are, of course, about us as much as about the Greeks and Romans.

But first the rhetoric of decline, and let me read you another piece of gloom:

On many sides we hear confident assertions…that the work of Greek and Latin is done—that their day is past. If the extinction of these languages as potent instruments of education is a sacrifice inexorably demanded by the advancement of civilisation, regrets are idle, and we must bow to necessity. But we know from history that not the least of the causes of the fall of great supremacies has been the supine-ness and short-sightedness of their defenders. It is therefore the duty of those who believe…that Greek and Latin may continue to confer in the future, as they have done in the past, priceless benefits upon all higher human education, to inquire whether these causes exist, and how they may be at once removed. For if these studies fall, they fall like Lucifer. We can assuredly hope for no second Renaissance.

Now, as you will have guessed from the rhetorical style, that was not written yesterday (although you could have heard much the same points made yesterday). It is, in fact, by the Cambridge Latinist J.P. Postgate, lamenting the decline of Latin and Greek in 1902—a famous lament, published in an influential London magazine (The Fortnightly Review) and powerful enough to lead directly, over one hundred years ago, to the establishment in the UK of the Classical Association, whose aim was to bring like-minded parties together explicitly to save the classics.

The point is that you can find such lamentations or anxieties almost anywhere you look in the history of the classical tradition….