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Expanding Our Vocabulary

May 15th, 2020

First, thanks to Yen Cabag for last week’s post on dialogue. I must apologise, as at the end of my previous blog I said we would be hearing from Ryan Pell. My mistake! But don’t worry; Ryan will be with you next week.

On the subject of dialogue, Coronavirus appears to be expanding our vocabulary and because of this the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) has taken the unprecedented step of updating the words they include outside their usual quarterly cycle. Whenever we read or listen to a news report we are bombarded with new vocabulary from epidemiology and medicine; new acronyms and words to express social imperatives and imposed isolation and distancing. It’s always been the case that great social change brings great linguistic change and it has never been truer than in the last few months.

So, what can we expect to see included? Self-isolation/isolating, infodemic (media outpourings of news on the crises), elbow bump (although this has already been relegated to the great garbage bin for daft ideas) and, of course, social distancing. You’d have to be on a different planet not to know the meaning of that!

But it’s interesting that some of the terms we’re using so often now date back many years. It’s believed that PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) was first used in 1934; self-quarantine in 1878 and the word Pandemic goes as far back as the 17th Century.  New words are introduced, some fall into disuse, others stick around – all part of our language’s rich heritage!

One thing it does show the writer, though, is the importance of getting your vocabulary right if you’re an author of period fiction. Whether your characters live in Victorian England, the Great Depression or the Cold War, always make sure that you don’t put words in their mouth that weren’t around at the time.

I find the introduction of new words quite exciting. But it’s an altogether different matter when politicians and the media get fixated on a word or phrase. I’m rapidly getting to the point where I want to strangle anyone who refers to a ‘silver bullet’ or ‘baby steps’ (…towards unlocking). Repetition of this kind is simply lazy.

If you took part in our 2020 Short Story Competition, the long-list is now available here, and I can promise you that it won’t be too long before we’re in a position to announce the winners.

Last week, however, I was rather surprised when I received an email from someone saying that they felt charging to enter competitions was rather dubious. It’s the first time anyone has ever said that to me and I thought most people acknowledged that an entry fee was acceptable for reputable competitions.

Many of the literary organisations running competitions are not charities and the entry fee (usually not very large) is used to fund the prizes and cover admin costs (competitions don’t run themselves). But speaking from years of experience they also serve another purpose… they make people think twice before sending off a piece of work that hasn’t been properly thought through, properly tailored and properly edited. When something is free to enter the temptation is to send in any old thing. For most people, if they have to pay they really make sure that what they send  is their best work.  That’s why I make no apology for the fact that we charge a fee for most of our annual competitions.

My guest next week, as I said at the beginning, will be Ryan Pell. Sorry Ryan for the delay in publishing your post!

Author: Diana Nadin

 

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