Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘language’

02 MAY, 2012

Ounce Dice Trice: Exploring the Whimsy of Words in Extraordinary Names for Ordinary Things

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Cartography for the land of linguistic imagination.

As a lover of language and children’s books, I found myself head over heels with Ounce Dice Trice — poet Alastair Reid and beloved artist Ben Shahn’s marvelous exploration of the nooks and crannies of language, real and imagined, through obscure, esoteric, and invented words for familiar things that are as mind-bending as they are tongue-twisting. It’s part Lewis Carroll, part Shel Silverstein, part something entirely its own and entirely refreshing.

The title comes from the playful alternative words bored shepherds used when they grew tired of counting their sheep the usual way.

Reid, best-known for his translations of Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda, writes to his young readers — and, it feels, to the eternal child in each of us — in the introduction:

And if you grow to love words for their own sake, you will begin to collect words yourself, and you will be grateful, as I am, to all the people who collect odd words and edit odd dictionaries, out of sheer astonishment and affection.

Conceptually delightful and beautifully illustrated, Ounce Dice Trice will put your relationship with language through a kaleidoscope of whimsy, stirring you to rediscover the sound and feel of words as they tug mischievously at your tongue.

Thanks, Marylaine; images via NYRB

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02 APRIL, 2012

Vowels: A Cinematic Homage to the Beauty of Language and Life

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A, E, I, O, U.

Language is beautiful. Vowels — not to be confused with the Ken Burns parody of the same name — is an exquisite reminder of that from filmmaker and visual storyteller Temujin Doran, who has previously delighted us with his thoughtful meditations on democracy and the art of protest, a bittersweet short film about his day job in a dying occupation, and some damn good advice. The film is based on a 1945 Linguaphone instructional recording.

Listen with headphones, watch in full screen.

For a related treat, see Radiolab’s Words.

Show Us Your Clips

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20 MARCH, 2012

How Famous Words Originated, According to the Historical Oxford English Dictionary

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Hunting down five centuries of linguistic innovation.

As a lover of language and the secret life of words, I’m in love with this: For their Spring 2012 issue, entitled Means of Communication, the fine folks at Lapham’s Quarterly tracked down the first usages of common and beloved words according to the Oxford English Dictionary, from “anarchy” (“the unleful lyberty or lycence of the multytude,” 1539) to “fun” (“a Cheat or slippery Trick,” 1699) to “cookie” (“In the Low-Country the Cakes are called Cookies,” 1754) to “hipster” (“a know-it-all,” 1941).

(They missed a modern essential, however — “snark,” courtesy of Lewis Carroll, 1874.)

Means of Communication is excellent in its entirety and you can find it in your favorite intelligent bookstore, or subscribe online.

Thanks, Michelle

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