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Words, and other writing instruments - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Words, and other writing instruments
(Spinning off of a Britpick on the last Shifts section.)

Does anyone else get annoyed at the growing number of words with sexual connotations to them? We lost "gay" and "queer" a long time ago as synonyms for "happy" and "odd" (although both had different nuances). "Bum" is at the tipping point between meaning derelict and meaning backside. The poor donkey will never be an ass again--even a Christmas carol decided that the ox and ass couldn't keep time anymore, and a lamb would have to be brought in to pinch hit, since "donkey" didn't fit the meter and kids giggling in the middle of the verse about getting away with a dirty word didn't create the right mood. Even the venerable "partner" is becoming a titillating (oo! she said "tit"!) possibility, since it's used to refer to non-spousal romantic living arrangements, leaving me to wonder how long it will be viable for business partnerships. Apparently "bent" means "gay" in British English. We're well on the way to losing "furry," we've totally lost the name "Dick," and even the mostly innocent bush is snickered at when people walk by. The poor beaver, which I'd never thought of as an especially libidinous kind of animal, can't visit in decent company, let alone in the presence of anything woody.

(Sometimes, of course, it's just quirky--my father's name was an alliterative of my first name, which would have made my initials "B.B." and my mother thought--and still thinks--I should be self-evidently glad to have her name instead, since everyone would obviously take BB to stand for "Big boobs." I guess you can't do anything about that.)

Oh, well. At least at some point in the last hundred years, "lavender" has re-entered the color spectrum without much baggage.

I want my words back! To use as... words! Waah.

Anyway, I'm re-reading The Dark Half (you have to love a Stephen King novel about an evil pen name coming to life, with an author's note that thanks the late, great Richard Bachman, without whom it couldn't have been written). There's much talk about writing implements in it--typewriters, pens, pencils. And I got to thinking about it on the way to work today.

There are some handwriting implements that I like better than others, and heaven knows I prefer a computer keyboard to a typewriter, but the main division for me is between handwriting and typing. It's not so much that I prefer one to the other, either--I use them for totally different things.

I prefer pens to pencils, and gel pens to any other kind of pens. Pencils, I'll tend to use for making character notes, sometimes sketching little pics, but not much else. Everything else is in pen, and I like the gels because they give a nice, even tone. Writing with a pen or pencil seems to focus my thoughts, power them down to a point. It's great for planning--I love scribbling things out, drawing lines from one thing to another, circling things... There's more raw power in handwriting. I make maps with a pen, make up names with a pen, plot things out with a pen.

But once I get to a certain point, the pen starts to become clumsy and hurt my fingers. When I'm handwriting, I write hard. I just wrote an experimental sentence on a stack of four sheets of paper, and only the bottom one was completely free of any impression. You could read the back of the top sheet like Braille. I've tried to deliberately lighten up, but as soon as I'm not thinking about it, it's back to finger cramp territory. Just too much... I don't know, energy? It's not stress, because the handwriting is the same, no matter what my mood. At any rate, there comes a point in every project where I have to switch to the keyboard. It's like woodworking--you start out with a hacksaw, but eventually, you have to move on to the fine-grained sandpaper.

You'd think keyboards would be the less refined energy, the real bludgeoning force--or the one that's so big and diffuse that it's powerless--but it's never worked that way with me. To grab another metaphor, handwriting opens an incision; using a keyboard is like being able to reach in and do surgery. It's more of a feeling of being in the world I'm writing, where I can tease a bit of dialogue, or coax a character back into line. Learning to type did not assure me employment if everything else failed (a common notion in the dim old days--the girl who can type will never starve), but it did make me freer as a writer. (If nothing else, it provided me with a legible text, which isn't always the case with my handwriting.) The computer, allowing instant changes throughout a text without retyping the whole thing, completed the liberation. I love computers. I love word processing. I actually like simple HTML coding (as in LJ), since I don't have to stop typing to go back, highlight, and change the formatting, which kind of breaks the forward momentum.

I don't know. Maybe I think about these sorts of things too much.

N.B., they have yet to invent the writing implement that allows me to take concise, organized, or even remotely useful notes in classes and lectures. The notebook opens and I'm off in my own world. If movie!Snape had picked on me with an open scroll, he definitely would not have found his talking points. More something along the line of,

Professor Snape

Brew glory... fame--what's he mean? [doodled flower] [doodled eye] [doodled cauldron] Hair grease? ASK RON. [There would be no clarification of what the question would be.]
20 comments or Leave a comment
jiminyc From: jiminyc Date: November 16th, 2004 01:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I imagine these words get really upset to suddenly find themselves with a new negative connotation.

You've reminded me of the day when I was helping a co-worker put together a presentation on rabies and we were looking online for pictures of different animal species that were rabies carriers. Without even thinking, we typed the words 'beaver picture' into the Google search bar and hit return.

I believe we still hold the record for Fastest Pressing of Back Button.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 16th, 2004 01:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Note to self--use a filtered computer to help a student look for beaver pictures.


sreya From: sreya Date: November 16th, 2004 01:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
*giggling over Fernwithy!classnotes*

I started typing all of my classnotes last year, first on my laptop and this semester on my PDA with the folding keyboard. My notes have become much better since then -- for one thing, I'm at the point where I can type faster and with less concentration than handwriting, and for another, if I think of off-topic things, like a plot bunny, I type it up in a separate file. :~P

I almost never handwrite anything these days -- except my final exams, because the school's software won't run on a Mac. *scowling* I really do type faster now, and I can get my thoughts into words without paying attention to the method. When I write anything by hand, I'm distracted by making sure the writing is level and legible -- both of which are a struggle, because I fought my teachers tooth and nail in grade school when they tried to teach me cursive. (After I'd been taught both denelian and block printing, I'd had enough! Writing is writing and I don't care how you want me to do it! Erm... anyway...) I can type without even looking at the screen, let alone the keyboard, and that allows me to continue watching my professors -- or imagining the scene I'm writing for a story.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 16th, 2004 01:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heh, the classnotes were actually more organized and logical than mine tend to look. And I had teachers who tried to drill it into me--two different math teachers graded our notebooks for comprehensibility and completeness in junior high. No dice. I knew I was being graded on it, and I still spent most of the class doodling, practicing my autograph, making up different characters' handwriting, or occasionally working out a math problem on the board.

I'm technologically behind the times. I'd love to have a laptop, but they're a leeeeeetle pricey for me.
liwy From: liwy Date: November 16th, 2004 02:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wouldn't mind the lack of a laptop. I find laptops annoying. The display is harder on my eyes, and the lack of an actual mouse is less than desirable.
straussmonster From: straussmonster Date: November 17th, 2004 08:08 am (UTC) (Link)
My laptop is the best investment I've made in ages and ages. I can write on papers in the library, with sources that can't be checked out, especially when doing manuscript work where they won't *photocopy* things for you, either. I've adjusted to the keyboard and the lack of mouse, which has cut down on my solitare playing dramatically. Alas!
ivylore From: ivylore Date: November 16th, 2004 03:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm perfectly comfortable with the term 'bush' and use it all the time - up here. In Canada, the broader meaning (forests as opposed to a bush) is part of the vernacular (probably Australia too). But, but, but, I always feel funny using it South of the border. Granted, there's no other word for it, so I do anyway, but I always hear it differently.
From: brigitanastasia Date: November 20th, 2004 12:19 am (UTC) (Link)
In Australia, any natural environment is known as "the Bush", kind of the way Americans or British use "countryside" or "in the country".
"Rooting" is a slang term for sex in Australia, (as in "get a root"), so when Americans say that they are rooting for their team we always laugh :D And "fanny" actually means "vagina" in Australia, so it's a "bum bag", NOT a "fanny pack"
Finally, In Australia a woman's pubic hair is sometimes refered to as her "map of Tasmania".
ivylore From: ivylore Date: November 20th, 2004 05:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh Fanny! *laughs*

I had a friend from Britain who used that and "front bum"! Yes, - NOT a fanny pack. I can see that.

On my bush contract last summer our two favourite appropriated Aussie expressions were "fair dinkums" and "I'll dink ya."

scionofgrace From: scionofgrace Date: November 16th, 2004 04:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Total sympathy on the word thing. Remember when a balls were innocent toys, or maybe fancy parties? Blech.

Don't even get me started on "faggot."

I totally understand about the writing tools thing. I love the concreteness of paper and pen, the way it stays no matter what and how it's so much easier to switch back and forth between different sections of it, when you've got a bunch piled around. Computers are most definitely for fine-tuning.

Do you have a favourite brand of writing utensil? I'm fond of Papermate ballpoint pens and Pilot Precise V5's.

As for class notes... oh yeah. One year one of my classmates leaned over and said, "What are you writing, stories or something? 'Cause I know you're not just taking notes."
chickadilly From: chickadilly Date: November 16th, 2004 04:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
When I took human sexuality back in college we did an experiment on just how many words have a double meaning like that. We got into groups of five and we had to write down as many as we could think of.

The entire class came up with something like 250 words.

Kinda says something about our culture, I think. Heh. (We're all pervs or something?(

Having said that it doesn't really bother me that much because it just seems the nature of language in general to evolve and change. Though some of the words (beaver for example) are offensive to me.
dudley_doright From: dudley_doright Date: May 25th, 2005 08:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
They say eskimos have 200-something words for snow (I always forget whether that's true or an urban legend, and it's not on Snopes...) because they're surrounded with it, and have to deal with it every day of their lives. Huh

Do I want to know what the other meaning of "beaver" is?
From: arclevel Date: November 16th, 2004 07:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, dear

I must admit, sometimes my inner 13-year-old reigns supreme. There are times that I have a hard time not snickering at things, though it's sometimes due to poor planning that I'd think someone would have caught. For instance, if you take I-75 through Michigan, Exit 69 is Big Beaver Road. Of course, that *is* what's there, but you'd think they could have put something else on the sign, like the city name or the nearest cross-street. Other times it really is quite innocent, and you're right that people can't say things anymore without being taken quite wrong. A few years ago, when Toy Story came out, a local newscast was doing a story on the featured toys and boosted sales. After it, the female newscaster looked at her male cohosts and said, "Did you ever have a Woody?" Poor woman was so embarrassed (and didn't live it down for some time).

I suspect that part of the reason the euphemisms have taken over is due to American culture bowing to the wishes and sense of humor (and disposable money, theirs or their folks') of teenagers, especially young teens. I really do remember being 13, and everything was a euphemism that you were supposed to giggle at. And if you didn't get it, you still snickered, because if you didn't, you were obviously incredibly naive. Once, a close friend's mom challenged a few of us to explain the joke. We hinted that it was sexual, she said that much was obvious. Beyond that, we just sort of stammered and avoided answering; I think it was the first time I realized that half the time, the other girls didn't know what we were snickering at, either.

That explains why my mind keeps going back and forth between lyrics in "Little Drummer Boy." They really do sing it both ways.
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: November 16th, 2004 08:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Are you familiar with the comic strip "Frazz"?

(It's one of my favorites.)

Take a look at 2 of this week's strips - "Sunday and Monday talk about words. You might enjoy them.

And, I'm unsure if I'm proud or just grateful that I don't know what "beaver" means, other than an annoying rodent.
From: arclevel Date: November 16th, 2004 08:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Writing media

Sometimes I write much better, other times I much prefer keyboards. I plan much better on paper, and almost always in pencil, even if I've got no intention of erasing. A large part of that is, as you said, because I like to make diagrams out of my thoughts. Nearly everything gets connected by arrows, which can mean almost anything. Additionally, when I feel like I need to write down what I'm thinking, I prefer handwriting. If I'm already *at* a computer (frequent), I'll use that, but otherwise, I prefer to write. I think this is because with keyboards, it's more natural to go back and edit as I write, and when I do that, I tend to lose my thought flow.

If I'm writing anything for school or things that require more thought as I'm writing them, I generally do that directly on the computer. Partly due to the ease of editing, but I think I simply got into the habit in high school and learned to think while staring at the screen.

I prefer to write very little in pen (which doesn't explain why I always have tons and can never find a pencil). To me, pens are for taking phone messages and other things where you need a utensil *now*, for permanent labeling of packages (though I usually use Sharpies) and for formalities. Checks, signatures, etc. In high school, we had to write English essays and frequently rote assignments in pen, and I hated that. Maybe the inability to erase made me worried that I'd need to make dramatic changes. Also, for the rote assignments, it seemed to attach that permanence and formality to something I'd just flung off and that I considered to be primarily for me, even if the teacher would read it.

One area where I have by necessity gotten over my dislike of pens is my lab notebook. I have to write in there a lot, often very quickly and casually, yet it's a permanent record and not technically mine. In there, I prefer to use the pens with slightly brighter ink (might be gel pens, not sure) than a standard Bic. That way, at least there's some prettiness to what I'm writing that makes me feel better, even if I've crossed out every third word.

My note-taking skills varied widely. My biggest problem now is my attention span, which is oddly much shorter than it used to be. More back in high school (but not entirely), there was the considerable problem of falling asleep when I was writing, where my notes would degenerate into *completely* illegible squiggles, usually at the important part of the sentence.
straussmonster From: straussmonster Date: November 16th, 2004 11:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 16th, 2004 11:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ha!!! I think I should leave the link lying around the internet tables and wait for the first frustrated cry of, "It's BIRDS!"

straussmonster From: straussmonster Date: November 17th, 2004 05:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd pay money to see that.

Their merchandise is *hilarious*, too...
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: November 17th, 2004 06:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Our Tits need support!

I'm dying here!
mylla From: mylla Date: November 17th, 2004 12:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I hate the 'stealing' of words. I have to make sure to say 'eraser' rather than 'rubber' these days.

And I note that in recent editions of Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree series, they've changed Fanny's name.

I have no trouble with words taking on new meanings, but do they have to lose their old ones?
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