The incremental developments that take place in our use of language are sometimes beautiful, sometimes challenging, but always right and proper to the changes that happen all around us. A living language is a wonderful thing, even if it grows in ways that attract fogeyish nostalgia for modes of expression that have passed into history.
Words, sentences, phrases, idioms, syntax: all aspects of written and verbal discourse reflect inevitable change, whilst being agents for change as well.
There are even times when the objective growth of language achieves a happy symmetry with subjective opinion.
One example that has emerged very recently is the word ‘selfie’.
The latest interim update of the Oxford English Dictionary has added a second usage to its existing definition, based on its usual methods of research. Thus, future editions will read as follows.
selfie / n. (colloquial):
- an image taken on a camera or mobile device where the subject is the person taking the image (possibly with one or more others in the frame of the image) usually via the use of an extended arm, or in certain circumstances a ‘selfie stick’ (self-explan.).
- a private act of stimulation of the sexual organs, or masturbation.
Further comment is not really necessary.
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The story of Sami and her journey towards the headquarters of the No Novel Underground (NNU) last appeared here in the post for 14th September 2014 (previous entries: 4.6.14; 8.5.14; 31.1.12; 21.12.11; 15.11.11). In the year 2097 Sami was interviewed for a documentary film (‘Frozen Slush Pile’) about the NNU. The following is part of the transcript of that interview.
Question: What made you decide to rebel against the Universal Novel Laws, the legal requirement to write at least one novel?
Sami: I began my novel in a pretty docile frame of mind, but as time went by I began to realise that I was living for writing about life instead of living for life itself. It dawned on me that the internet, the precursor to our intermatrix, had led to massive changes, changes which happened at a fast pace. By the end of the second decade in the 21st century pretty much everyone was creating art about their lives…mainly in the form of writing novels, short fiction, poetry, websites, blogs, journals posted via social media…just an overwhelming din of self-analysis and self-proclamation.
Q.: And you didn’t want to be a part of that?
Sami: There was a small minority of us who wanted to get back to primary experience, to a way of being that engages with life to the full without the need to batter other people over the head with our way of seeing, our way of feeling, our way of learning. It’s more of an anti-ego thing than a specifically anti-novel thing. You can compare it with the obsessive use of a camera: people can easily get hung up on recording images of their experiences, to the point where those actual experiences are ignored…the moments are missed because they are filtered through a lens. That can happen with writing. A poem, a story, a novel, a piece of drama – they can help the writer, and even the reader, understand and integrate stuff, but that has to be done with awareness of what you are doing and knowledge of yourself…mostly it’s just “Me! Me! Me! Listen to my voice!”
Q.: What you’re saying reminds me of that film that came out eighty-odd years ago…’Birdman’…there’s this card on the dressing-room mirror…
Sami: “A thing is always and only a thing, not what is said about the thing”. A tricksy quote from a confused film, but yes, it fits.
Q.: Most of your journey was taken up by a detailed examination of the chain of the Aleutian Islands. It took you over twenty years. Any regrets?
Sami: None at all. We could have spent longer. Our brief, not that we knew this until halfway through the trek, was to tunnel a way through to the heart of poetry as a means of expression and communication. Akasua had been tasked with examining the Aleutian Islands because they represent a natural ‘poem’ on the map. Their graceful arrangement and their careful relationship to each other make up a distinct rhythm, a rhythm that sometimes includes rhyme and metre, and which conforms to all the best definitions of poetry, but at a topographic level.
Q.: All the best rocks in all the best places?
Sami: Yep! And our job was to follow all that symmetry and rhythm down to the ‘micro’ level. We made use of scientific studies, geological surveys, all the data on the flora and fauna of both land and sea…but ours’ was more of a poetic enquiry. We looked at the recurring imagery of the contours, the alliteration of repeated patterns on stones, the assonance of streams and birds…the list is endless because the possibilities are endless.
Q.: The boat you used, Roomy Baby, was a crucial help in your trip. Is it still afloat? Can we film it?
Sami: Yes, Roomy Baby is currently anchored in the port of Cowryville (editor’s note: formerly the Russian city of Petropavlovsk) in what used to be known as Kamchatka. All the words necessary for an understanding of our work are stored on board.
Q.: Rumours persist of a journey along the Kuril archipelago to the northern tip of Japan?
Sami: Amongst other rumours…!
Q.: There’s a very old saying: ‘freedom is always available, one needs only to pay the price for it’. What price have you paid?
Sami: Mmmm…how long have you got? I suppose that the costs were symbolised in the bear attack on Anvil Peak, on Semisopochnoi Island. We were ignorant of the extent to which the grizzlies and the polar bears had interbred. To lose four of our small group in one night was a terrible blow. To do what we were doing meant full engagement of the brain, the body, the spirit, and the heart.
Our hearts were not hard and I still miss my Friends.
(The above extract is reproduced with kind permission from the Dardennes Film Foundation)