English is Not a Fortress

Lesson 16 Chapter 1 Module 3

As we transition from Week One to Week Two, we’re shifting from that foundational work on reading and motivation to learning about language and literature.

Yesterday, I asked you to write about “what kind of writer you want to be at the end of this course”. As you look back on what you wrote, it’s important to look at the words and phrases you chose.

Words are the blocks you use to build your written structures.

While the first step to becoming a master writer is understanding how to actually read and comprehend writing, the next step is mastering the words you use to craft your content.

With that in mind, have you ever wonder what kind of person works at a dictionary?

Ok, let’s take a step back. Did you ever stop to think that there are a lot of people who work for the companies that publish dictionaries?

These extreme word nerds, called lexicographers, are charged with the protection and adaptation of the English language.

Well in 2017, one particular lexicographer, a hilarious woman named Kory Stamper, decided to peel back the kimono and share with the world the unknown behind-the-scenes of this world in her book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries.

One of the greatest stands she takes is in the defense of English as a changing entity, not a solid fortress that must be defended to the death.

So while some of the lessons this week will dig deeper into the origins of the language we use and the proper way to write, we need to start understanding words by understanding their magnificent ability to adapt.

Words that may have meant X when they were first used, now carry a more common definition of Y.

For example, did you know that Norse myths do not involve drinking from the skulls of their foes?

Well, they don't. But a mistranslated verse substituted the word skulls for horns...as in they drank from the horns of their kills from the hunt...because that is what the word meant at the time of translation.

Explains those funny hats Vikings wear in operas, huh?

Words and language are a fluid and ever-changing science.

That’s an absolute opinion from someone who has the job of making sure we all understand and use them correctly!

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