Cheltenham’s newest literary venue is the Suffolk Anthology, and yesterday I braved the post-race Cheltenham Festival revellers to walk up to Suffolk Parade to give a talk about TheWord Detective. The owner, Helene, holds events such as these in the basement of the bookshop. It’s a cosy venue, with a friendly crowd ready with comments and questions if you give them a chance. We started off talking about stereotypes (the word and the thing, especially as it relates to dictionary editors) and then moved off onto Cheltenham words (promenade, spa), to see what a historical dictionary like the OED finds to say about them. I think I must have veered off piste somewhere as, before I knew it, I was halfway through my allotted time. But it didn’t matter – what I really wanted to do was to talk about words, not about the mechanics of publishing a dictionary.
While I was talking, I was missing the fourth instalment of The Word Detective as Radio 4’s Book of the Week. Still, there’s always i-Player. The voice and tone aren’t mine by a long way. I thought I had written the book to dispel some of the old dictionary stereotypes, but the production tends to reflect them – including the Jeeves and Wooster-ish music at the beginning and end.
Next week I’m giving a lunchtime talk to the Friends of The Wilson in Cheltenham – a slightly different type of presentation on roughly the same theme. So it won’t matter if someone inadvertently goes to both. On that occasion there will be pictures as well as words.
It somehow occurred to me that a) I had not posted to this blog in over a year *gulp* and that b) 2016 is over in the next two days. At first, I thought 2016 was a fairly disturbing year. It still is in several aspects, but then I looked at my Goodreads challenge. Many, many fantastic reads came across my desk this year, and I can’t wait to see what the 2017 literary world has in store for me.
I read 45 total books this year, 5 short of my goal of 50 (which believe it or not was originally a goal of 100! What was I thinking?). I’m quite pleased with my result, though, because several of the books I read this year were in French. My native language is English, but I have been studying French for 7-8 years now.
I’m currently in the US, just a few days after the presidential election. As recent political events in both the US and the UK have shown, democratic processes can arouse strong feelings, and by definition not everyone will approve of the results.
One of the themes running through The Word Detectiveis the democratization of the OED (the “z” is Oxford’s preferred style, as well as the US spelling) and I’ve written an article about this for The Daily Beast.
Dot Wordsworth talks about “niche” – “an English word that turned into a French one” – in the Mind Your Language column in The Spectator, here. The article is based on my discussion of the word in The Word Detective, and I’m helpfully described as “not our man in the burka, but the former chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary“.