Old Dog, New Tricks
Day 9’s assignment required visiting other bloggers’ sites to get inspiration for a post. So I have set aside my own ideas for today and concentrated on finding inspiration. I started seeking last night, but we were having difficulties with our island’s internet services. After getting hung up for more than 5 minutes on one click, I decided it was time to set aside the task and do something else.
This morning, I picked up from where I left off last night but was interrupted–first by the handyman who came to fix a few things in and around our home, and later by my laptop, which apparently needed to finish a bunch of updates before it would allow me to work. I needed the laptop because it is difficult to perform some blogging tasks on mobile applications. Not all WordPress apps are created equal, but that’s more a function of the need to keep tight apps for mobile devices, I think. To keep mobiles running smoothly and quickly, some features need to be modified or reduced altogether. For this assignment, I needed my laptop because I knew in advance that I have trouble obtaining web addresses on my iPad–even after getting iPad-specific help from the Bloggers U team a while back. So I had to wait for my computer to update itself before I could go any further. I used the time to read through more posts.
The first thing I noticed is that one of the bloggers I follow, Don Massenzio, has been doing a lot of reposts and fewer original posts over the past several days. A lot of the re-blogs are about the writing process and writing techniques. Some are from a while back, others are very recent. Re-blogs are an excellent way to keep your site active when time is limited. We’ve all had clumps of days where our energy is diverted to more pressing needs, leaving us with just enough free time to check out and share others’ work and wisdom even when we do not have the time to create. Don’s selection of shared posts is diverse enough to hold your interest while focused enough to help all of us with fresh insights into the writing process.
The second thing I noticed was the number of posts that are based on some sort of challenge: writing, photography, poetry, etc. These are great for keeping one’s writing fresh as well as to help us with inspiration. I haven’t been involved with a challenge for quite some time, and have added that to my to-do list of blogging activities.
After a while, I came across a post that caught my eye. In today’s post, Deniz Yalim put together a list of what she called proverbs, among which was missing “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” What got my attention is that her definiation of proverb was closer to my definition of adage. That sent me to the dictionary for clarification. It was a real learning experience to find that I had been using the word proverb as though it were synonymous with parable, or a story that teaches or has a moral or lesson (like a fable); and using adage as though it meant a pithy saying about a cultural truth. As it turns out, proverb and adage became synonyms somewhere over my lifetime.
This piece of enlightenment brought to mind a conversation I had many years ago about how language changes. The conversation was with my husband’s friend, science fiction writer Gregory Benford. He was thinking about a short story he was contemplating about a group of people with apparently low mental acuity, and wanted the input of a special education teacher (me). The term he was going to use for them had been dropped decades before and was no longer the psychological term he expected to use. The word was “idiot.” It was an appropriate term before the mid-1970s, but had fallen into disuse as a psychological term. In short, the word’s pre-1980s primary usage had dropped back into a secondary–and derogatory–meaning. I was able to back up what I was saying regarding language changing across generations because I had my original copy of The American Heritage Dictionary as well as the updated 25th anniversary edition of the same dictionary. When he saw the change in the definitions, he was as astounded as I had been with other words.
Whether the definition of “proverb” that I use came from its usage when I was growing up or from a misunderstanding in my formative years, I may never know. We have moved three times since that conversation with Dr. Benford, and my original dictionary has been lost somewhere along the way.
The point is that language changes, whether we think about it or not. That can make it difficult to come to a full understanding with someone of a very different generation or whose profession is less sensitive to change in vocabulary or word usage in greater society. As technology has brought the world closer together, words and phrases from different cultures and countries have been introduced into unrelated languages as well. If we allow ourselves to recognize that language changes, we can adapt more readily to the changes brought about by global interactions. We can continue to grow with the shifts in meaning and the new vocabulary that would have little meaning without adaptation into our own language. After a while, we stop thinking about where the word came from or what it means; we care only that it has a meaning for us that will be the same–or at least very similar–to everyone.
Coming across the words “lorry” or “van” when reading a book by a British author no longer throws me for a loop, rushing for a dictionary. Spelling differences (US: color, UK: colour) or quotation mark order (US: double on the outside, single within; UK: the opposite) don’t even rate an eye blink. Yet I continue to be surprised when I sense a different usage or meaning for a word than I would have used.
It just goes to show: you can teach an old dog new tricks.