QA 33. May 2012. It’s only words, and words are all I have…

It is often forgotten that (dictionaries) are artificial repositories, put together well after the languages they define. The roots of language are irrational and of a magical nature. Jorge Luis Borges

The hard drive of my laptop crashed two days before I was to leave on a residential writing retreat. I took it philosophically (of course) and looked forward to five days of writing by hand. But when I realised I’d also be without my online dictionaries, I packed a neglected old companion: a second-hand Collins English Dictionary bought a dozen years ago when I was writing my thesis. Subtitled A Dictionary of the English Language containing over 100,000 References and Numerous Supplements and edited by Alexander H. Irvine, it was first published in 1956. It’s a pleasantly compact hardcover edition complete with faded dust-wrap and a frayed plastic cover. The R10 price is still pencilled on the flyleaf. In the next few days, we fell in love all over again. Read more

QA 13. (April 09) Tug of war, tug of words

Michael the teacher was talking about what he says to new classes to disarm them. To disarm them? An ambiguous phrase. Did he mean to charm the children or to take away their weapons? Which reminded me of the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’s view that discourse (conversation, dialogue) is the way we can engage with each other without violence. Which started me thinking about how we use language to arm and disarm ourselves and each other.

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