Harper’s Magazine recently published an article (Semantic Drift) arguing that English is deteriorating, and the solution is more grammar instruction. (My thanks to Margaret Swanson for telling me about it!). If you know me well, you already know that I disagree with the article on both counts. English is not deteriorating, and grammar instruction isn’t the solution to anything.
I started early one morning writing a couple of thoughts, and…boom! An essay started to take shape. I have a lot of historical information about changes in English, so it was an easy article to plan and put together. (I did a lot of chuckling and chortling.)
Another advantage is that I still have a library account with the college where I used to teach. Their online resources include the Oxford English Dictionary (often called the OED). O frabjous day! Calloo, callay!
(Note to self: write a post about the OED.)
One evening the ideas wouldn’t stop coming, and I plugged away at the article until nine o’clock. Finally the article signaled that I’d worked hard enough. I got into bed and read a couple of articles in the back issues of the New Yorker that I keep on my bedside table. At 10:30 I sleepily turned off my reading lamp.
And then at about two I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. The only solution was to sit down at the @#$%! keyboard and write another chunk. I really, really would prefer to skip these sleep interruptions – they mess me up the next day. But I don’t seem to have a choice.
What’s interesting is that I’d been dragging the previous week – unusual for me. I was thinking that my age was catching up with me, and maybe I should see my doctor. And then this essay popped into my head, already organized and accompanied by a list of examples.
I’m thinking now that my unconscious was working on the article the whole time and wanted peace and quiet. Do other writers go through these struggles? And always lose, like I do? (Incidentally, that “like I do” is bad, according to the Harper’s article. My response: I don’t care.)
It’s been interesting to compare the Harper’s response with another article I’m writing, about Shaw’s brief play Village Wooing. The Shaw article was supposed to take five or six days. It’s now been more than a month, and I’m having to make major changes because I came up with a new idea that doesn’t fit tidily with what I’d already written.
The Village Wooing article started with one small point that wasn’t strong enough to warrant an entire essay. Then ideas started exploding, and I keep having to start over. I’m having so much fun with it that I sometimes feel guilty about sitting down to write. Shouldn’t I be vacuuming?
I’ve really enjoyed all the excitement. But what a nice change of pace this new project has been! Straightforward, easy to organize.
I hope your summer has been as much fun as mine has been!