One of the best things about being a writer is how much time you find yourself spending with the English language (I’m guessing this applies to other languages, too. English, however, is the one I know, so it’s the one I’m going to on, at length, about). There are two reasons why I consider this to be a really neat result.
The first is just how bloody interesting this language stuff is. I can’t count how many times I’ve just been plodding along in life, having random thoughts about completely trivial matters, when some epiphany about language will strike me, then completely occupy my thoughts for hours.
I expect you want an example, do you? Very well. Last Thursday, I was taking the usual stroll up and down the Thames that generally occupies me on my lunch break, and listening to one of my favorite podcasts (“Digital Noise” on OneOfUs.net, since you asked). One of the fellows is mentioning something about how some movie or other followed “the standard horror tropes,” and I was suddenly overcome with curiosity. I’ve been hearing the word “trope” for years, known what it meant and how to use it in conversation, but never given much thought to it, or where it came from. What the hell kind of word is “trope” anyway? It doesn’t sound like anything else, really. Okay, so it starts with “trop-“…is that important? Is it a Latin or Greek prefix of some sort? What else starts with “trop”? How about…”tropic”?
Hmmm, “trope” and “tropic”. The first means an element of a type of story that is so common to that type of story that one can use it to describe the genre (the “virgin survivor” in horror, for example). The latter is one of two lines around the North or South of the planet, which denote…what? I don’t actually know what the “Tropic of Cancer” actually denotes, come to think of it. Very different words, describing very different things, but they start with the same four letters and at least one of them doesn’t have but one extra vowel to it. Could they actually be related?
A bit of research, and it turns out they do. (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=tropic). They both come from a Greek prefix that generally means “turn” or “turning”. So, a trope is the turn a story takes, while a tropic is the point a sun “turns back” after reaching a northernmost or southernmost part of the planet in a season.
I think that’s pretty fascinating, and I hope you’ll agree. If not, chances are you’re not a writer (after a less-than-popular post, I discovered that most of my Faceboook friends, aren’t writers). In either case, I’ve got a birthday coming up, and I’m still waiting for someone to buy me that etymology dictionary I’ve always wanted.
The second thing about getting to know English in a first-name-basis? Whenever someone in the office is having that argument about punctuation (you know the one, “I want to refer to several of this thing that ends in an ‘s’…do I add an apostrophe or just another ‘s’, or what?”), you get to be the one that swoops in and saves the day. Sure, they’ll question whether you know what you’re talking about, but you’ll speak to the actual grammatical rules about pluralization and the possessive form, that they’ll just take your word for it and send that e-mail to their boss, full with the knowledge that the boss is probably getting their punctuation advice from you, too, so even if you’re wrong, they’ll never know.
Thing number two is also called, I believe, “being a know-it-all”.
May 12th seems to be coming really fast, which has got to be a good sign, right? It’s all terribly exciting. I still find myself surprised when I discover two proof copies of my paperback sitting in my living room. Keep in eye out for a couple of promotions I’m going to be putting up in the next couple of weeks. Might even be a free copy or two of “Knight of the Flame” in it!