Law and Conversation

May 26, 2009

Fun with words

Filed under: Books and writing — Helen Gunnarsson @ 11:58 am
Tags: , , ,

I learned in high school, from a wonderful teacher, Peggy Larson, that dictionaries’ roles are both to describe and prescribe.  I’ve always favored prescribing over describing, but overemphasizing the prescriptive role can stifle creativity and be the equivalent of donning blinders to some marvelous works of literature.  So I enjoyed Bryan Garner’s thoughts on “Morphological Deformities” in today’s “Garner’s Usage Tip Of The Day,” a free daily e-mail newsletter to which I subscribe (and you can, too, by visiting http://www.oup.com/us/subscriptions/subscribe/?view=usa ):

 In some philologists’ view, one does not combine the inseparable particle “dis-” with nouns to form English verbs (e.g., “dismember”) because it is impermissible by Latin morphology. In Latin, “dis-” was joined only with verbs to form privative verbs (e.g., “disentitle,” “disregard”).

BUT ….

It’s preposterous to contend that Latin morphology should govern English morphology…..Our playfulness and inventiveness with morphemes like these are what makes English such a vital language.

Garner’s commentary made me think of some writers for whom playing with English was a huge part of their greatness:  Lewis Carroll (think “Jabberwocky,” in particular) and Theodore Geisel, a/k/a Dr. Seuss (whom I think should have received a Nobel Prize for literature—he combined genius with words with genius for drawing with genius for storytelling with genius for poetry), for example.  I also thought of C.S. Lewis, who told great stories in his Chronicles of Narnia and made up the wonderful Marsh-wiggle creature, with an equally wonderful name, Puddleglum, not to mention Rumblebuffin the giant, Mr. Tumnus the faun, and, of course, Aslan the lion.

 I forwarded the Garner e-mail to a writer friend.  Showing her own amazing creativity, she wrote back “I make up words all the time.  It’s funnisher than being all rulesticky.  🙂 ”

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