Sunday, March 22, 2020

Halving it

When I was doing a Writing Course years ago, I remember being appalled when asked to cut down a short story by half. Impossible! 

But, no, it's not, and the good thing was that it gave me confidence to edit more effectively in the future. No line is ever inviolable, and no word is so perfect that something else can't substitute for it - if you need to chop things back. The great thing about the English language is that you can almost invariably find a synonym for any word. 

I posted the following on Facebook today: 

For years we've been getting the nasal spray Flixonase in a plastic squirter. Simple and not too unenvironmental.
Now the product has morphed into a wide plastic package - the kind you have to use an axe to get into - and most of what's inside the package is air. Not only do these packets take up much more room on the shelf at the pharmacy, but they are a total waste of resources. Neither the packaging nor the container is reusable in any sense.

I attached photos of the package, front and back, including one of the previous models for comparison.

Plenty of room on Facebook, so I could use as many words as I wanted, and play a little with the text. 

But I wanted to put the same thing on Twitter, and of course, even with their doubling of the size of a tweet a couple of years ago, you're still limited in how many characters you can use. 

So I called on my old skills, and produced this:

For years the nasal spray #Flixonase came a simple plastic squirter. Now it's morphed into a wide #plastic package, and most of what's inside is AIR. Not only does it take up more room on the pharmacy shelf, but neither the packaging nor the container is #recyclable in any sense.

Exactly 280 characters!

In the tweet there are 50 words, or 280 characters. In the FB version there are 85 words, and 449 characters.

Yes, of course, a few interesting things have gone - like the bit about the axe - but in general nothing important has been lost. It can sometimes be a struggle to get your text down to an allotted number of words (newspapers are usually the most keen to keep words to a certain fixed figure) but it's doable, and what's more, it's good for your editing skills in general. I've had to review several books over the last few years that looked like they'd never end - a 1000 pages seemed to be the minimum some authors could tell their story in. Except it wasn't. It was indulgence, and the editors at his publishing house should have told them so.

So when it comes to the point where you have to cut that massive tome down that you've been writing for several years, just think: do I want to publish a Facebook version, or a Twitter one? The latter may well help your book reach more readers.

Friday, March 20, 2020

You great wazzock!

We were on holiday recently, and my wife bought me a Code Break puzzle book from the $2.00 shop (it cost $2.50, which seems slightly odd, but maybe altering the name of the shop to the $2.50 Shop wasn't worth the extra fifty cents).

Unusually for a puzzle book, I'd discovered some new words. The compiler obviously didn't like to go for the mundane, so we had SCHMALTZ, GRIPPE and ENCYST in one puzzle. None of those were unfamiliar, but the following three made me check the anagram app on my phone which is usually a pretty reliable source for checking the validity of a word.

These three were: WAZZOCK, MAJOLICA and OSMIUM. Plainly I should know the second and third as even Blogger doesn't think them unusual, but it put a red line under WAZZOCK, which means it thinks it's suspect. Word (the Microsoft programme) on the other hand, seems quite happy with it, although not with its alternative spelling, WASSOCK.

Well, Blogger and Word, it isn't suspicious at all, in either spellings. And it's a useful word which obviously no longer gets the room in most people's vocabulary that it deserves. Know someone who's stupid or annoying? That person is a wazzock.

It may be a newish word. Certainly most dictionaries I could find online seemed to think it had originated in the twentieth century. The Urban Dictionary, on the other hand, a dictionary I don't always find entirely reliable (which may be just that I'm ignorant of a great deal of slang) claims an interesting history for it.

On the basis of the Urban Dictionary's explanation WAZZOCK is the sort of word that I'd have expected to find in David Crystal's The Disappearing Dictionary. This isn't a thriller about a book disappearing from someone's library, but about many English words - many delightful ones - that are no longer used, except, in some cases, in remote parts of England where local dialects are still more common.

Here are a bunch just to give you some examples:

abundation, aizam-jazam, awvish, bemoil, brackle,cank, craichy, cramble, giddling, hask, illify, knivy, lozzuck, nesh, poweration, queechy, ronkish, scorrick, splute, work-brittle (which doesn't mean work-shy).

To give you an idea of how useful some of these words are, here are the meanings of four of them.

aizam-jazam, in spite of it looking foreign, and difficult to get your teeth around, merely means equitable, fair and square. It might be a word to face up to your lawyer with when you think he or she has been overcharging. Or you could just save your teeth and call them a wazzock.

bemoil just means covered in mud, and seems like a word we could resurrect for rugby players. 'They were so bemoiled, half the pitch went with them into the dressing room.')

queechy means sickly, ailing, feeble. This one could be useful in describing someone with Coronavirus.
'Doctor, I think I've been hit by this pandemic.'
'Yes, you do look a bit queechy.'

And last, scorrick means a fragment. Crystal gives a wonderful sentence in dialect using the word: ‘Ah thowt ther would ha bin summat left, bud ther waant a scorrick.’ [Translated: I thought there would be some left, but there wasn't a scorrick.]

A plate in the Majolica style
[courtesy Getty Images]
If this word sounds familiar, it may be because in some parts of England it's pronounced sceerick, or skeerick (this is the spelling I'm more familiar with, here in New Zealand). And it has exactly the same meaning.

Time to resurrect some of these wonderful words, I think!

Oh, BTW, Majolica [often pronounced Maiolica] is a type of pottery in which an earthenware clay body (usually a red earthenware) is covered with an opaque white glaze (traditionally a lead glaze including tin), then painted with stains or glazes and fired.

And Osmium (from Greek ὀσμή osme, "smell") is a chemical element with the symbol Os and atomic number 76. It is a hard, brittle, bluish-white transition metal in the platinum group that is found as a trace element in alloys, mostly in platinum ores.

So now you know...

Vex and trip

This column first appeared in Column 8, 8th September, 1993

My self-imposed moratorium on a certain word rhyming with ‘vex’ must come to an end. The reason? The overwhelming emphasis this week on the word rhyming with ‘vex,’ and a companion word rhyming with ‘trip.’

Can I ask: If you were the mother of seven and came into a load of money after your husband died, what would you spend it on? Most mothers-of-seven would probably answer: ‘On getting the bills paid. Or buying the kids (or grandchildren) some extra clothes. Or putting aside for their future, especially their education.’

I don’t think most mothers-of-seven would decide that forming a male strip act and taking it on tour was a top priority.

Dreams are dreams, okay, and we all have some secret ambitions we’d like to fulfil. But this must be classed as one out of the box.

Male strippers are certainly in vogue. Due to the overwhelming financial (though hardly artistic) success of a play on the subject of male strippers, our local professional theatre is now presenting A Sequel.

We’re warned in the ads that some scenes ‘may offend, intimidate or excite audience members.’ We’re told in the review that people who’d find it difficult going to see a proper strip show can feel more relaxed about going to see a play on the subject.

The puzzle is why do people want to go and see other people strip at all?

For years we’ve heard the cry, ‘It’s degrading for women to strip.’ How come it isn’t for men? Or are we back to that piece of  nonsense proposed by the video censors: men are less easily demeaned than women?

Perhaps because men are the ‘oppressors’ and have all the ‘power,’ (fat chance!) they’re taking the opportunity to oppress their victims still further – by stripping in front of them.

The Listener presented a cover story about a male and a female stripper. The man said something significant: He felt he still had to keep one part of himself for himself – that is, he never exposes himself completely. But why expose himself at all?

I know work is difficult to get, and I can see that certain unemployed members of the community might decide that this was the road to success, but what’s the cost in the long term?

A certain newspaper now has columns advertising – euphemistically – Adult Entertainment. Strippers appear increasingly amongst the ads for ‘escorts,’ a number of which I’m sure really mean ‘prostitutes.’

There are two unsavoury aspects to all this. First, the ads sometimes appear alongside the church notices, a matter of ‘inappropriate juxtaposition.’ No doubt someone will point out that Jesus spent a good deal of His time ministering to prostitutes; therefore the neighbourliness of the ads is appropriate. However, I don’t think Jesus expected that prostitutes, once they’d seen His light, would continue in their occupation.

Secondly, classified ads must ‘conform to the newspaper’s standards.’ Am I wrong in thinking those standards have broadened their broadmindedness more than a little?

That’s the classifieds. Amongst the entertainment ads is one for a certain lady now touring the country. She’s been a centrefold in Penthouse, Hustler, and so on. She’s an X-rated star of porn movies. Need I say more?

I thought, as a nation, we were already pretty much obsessed by that subject rhyming with ‘vex.’ The trouble with obsessions is that they’re never satisfied.

In the murkier depths of our beings, we’d possibly all find lascivious corners that would leer at what ought to be other people’s privacy. (I mean, of course, something quite different to normal married privacies.) But what value is there in yielding to these murky depths?

When it comes to certain words rhyming with ‘vex’ and ‘trip,’ are we made to be creatures that wallow, or creatures that soar?


Update, 20.03.20
Interesting that this was written four years before The Full Monty appeared. Certainly this is an entertaining and well-made movie, though there always seemed to me to be a disconnect between putting on a strip show (and once only) and the idea that these men had lost their sense of human value. The argument didn’t quite work. Where would they go after the show was put on? Hardly into full-time strip work, you’d think? And would it be likely to give them employment in another profession?