Friday, July 01, 2005

Your Language Needs You

Did you eat a balti before 1984 or have a mullet before 1994? And do you know how they got their names?

A forthcoming BBC TWO series invites you to hunt for words and help rewrite the Oxford English Dictionary. We are appealing to the nation to help solve some of the most intriguing recent word mysteries in the language.

The OED seeks to find the earliest verifiable usage of every single word in the English language. The 50 words on the appeal list all have a date next to them, corresponding to the earliest evidence the dictionary currently has for that word or phrase. Can you trump that?

To join the word hunt, you might find an earlier appearance of the word in a book or a magazine, in a movie script, a fanzine, or even in a private letter. The most important thing is that it can be dated.

Sometimes the OED can't tell how a word was invented - so if you can fill us in, so much the better. We've indicated next to these words that they are 'origin uncertain'. If you have a convincing theory, we'd like to hear from you. If you can prove you're right, you might help in rewriting the dictionary.

For a list of the words click here:
BBC - History - Programmes - Wordhunt

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Watchdog savages Paris's literary lions

Jon Henley
Tuesday June 28, 2005
The Guardian

The Paris literary scene was shaken yesterday when the government's anti-corruption watchdog warned that France's most prestigious book prizes were wide open to corruption.
In its 2004 report, the SCPA, part of the justice ministry, said it was "difficult to distinguish between jury members, who are generally the authors of literary works, and the houses which publish their books. There is a risk that fair competition rules may be being broken."

The report, seen by Le Parisien newspaper, continued: "There is an evident risk of a conflict of interest. Moreover, the conditions in which the jury members are recruited or co-opted, often for life, are not exactly transparent, which makes them suspect as a matter of principle."
France's major literary awards such as the Prix Femina, the Prix M├ędicis and - most prestigious of all - the Prix Goncourt have long been accused of rigging their votes, taking it in turns to reward big publishers.

Of the four best-known names in French publishing, Gallimard has won the Goncourt 34 times, Grasset 16 times, Albin Michel 11 and Seuil five. Perhaps in response to mounting resentment, the prize went last year to a small and relatively recent house, Actes Sud.

In another advance, the Goncourt committee co-opted one of France's most popular and respected literary critics, Bernard Pivot, on to the jury: unlike the Pulitzer or the Booker, the jury composition of the major French contests, particularly the Goncourt, changes rarely if ever.

Nor is it uncommon to find that authors in competition for a prize are not only literary critics for well-known newspapers or magazines and commissioning editors for renowned publishing houses, but also members of the jury for rival awards.

"When you realise the millions of euros that a good Goncourt winner can generate for its publisher, you start to see the immorality of the whole thing," said a series editor for a small, independent publishing house outside Paris who asked not to be named.

"French publishing, and particularly the whole prize charade, is all about mutual back-scratching. It's scandalous really, and if it gets cleaned up that can only be a good thing."

Guardian Unlimited Books | News | Watchdog savages Paris's literary lions

How The Waste Land was done

Donald MacLeod
Tuesday June 21, 2005

Faced with that literary troublemaker TS Eliot, a York University academic called in the FBI and now claims to have cracked the case of how The Waste Land was written.
Lawrence Rainey, of the university's English department, spent two years travelling across Europe and the US to sort out the sequence in which Eliot wrote the poem.

A sheaf of rough drafts for the poem surfaced in 1971 and Prof Rainey compared them with the letters and other writing that Eliot was producing in the years before its publication in 1922 - a task calling for forensic as much as literary investigation. He examined more than 1,200 leaves of paper, including 638 pages of letters, Eliot had written between 1912 and 1922, visiting 22 international libraries and several private collections in his two-year journey.

FBI agents Bill Brown and David Attenberg gave the professor copies of the transparent templates the agency uses to identify makes of typewriters, and he used a micrometer to measure the thickness of every sheet of paper, as well as recording their height, width, watermarks, chainlines and other properties. He was able to date and to reconstruct the poem's composition.
Prof Rainey argues in Revisiting 'The Waste Land' that Eliot wrote the poem between January 1921, and January 1922, and that the poet did not follow a plan in its composition. Instead, Eliot improvised to stitch together more than 50 drafts.

"When The Waste Land was published, its defenders insisted that the poem was planned from the beginning and that it was a poem of extraordinary unity. Now that we can trace the processes and the choices that Eliot is making, the poem turns out to be something quite different," Prof Rainey said.

"You can see him making false starts and because he writes in tiny units of 13 lines at a stretch he is then left with the problem of how to stitch them together. You can see that he uses incredibly obvious choices to do that.

"The Waste Land was not a seamless whole, but something more radical. It is, at once, wild and unruly, violent and shocking and yet deeply compassionate," he added.

· Revisiting 'The Waste Land' by Lawrence Rainey is published by Yale University Press at £22.50

Guardian Unlimited Books | News | How The Waste Land was done

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