Friday, October 22, 2010

The Walking Dictionary

The title of this blog is one of my nicknames - one that I've had since primary school. As most of you who know me would discern, I was given this nickname due to my expansive vocabulary, as well as my tendency to correct spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. Whether spoken or written, if I'm in the vicinity of a language mistake, I will most likely pick up on it. Now, I'm not writing this blog to boast about my prowess with language, but rather to give some insight into why I am so captivated by words and language. I'll also share my thoughts on my habit of correcting people.

My interest in words could best be summed up in a paragraph I wrote on my Formspring a few months ago. For the benefit of your understanding, I think it's best if I included that paragraph in this blog. I know it may seem like a cheap gesture, since I'm not producing something original, but I feel that this paragraph really encapsulates my relationship with language.

Here's the statement that I received:

"I think you are very lucky because of your strength with words. Words can easily brighten one's mood. Words are so strong and I think you are very lucky because you have the ability to easily make people happy if you use words the right way."

Here is my response:

I am not lucky that I have a strength with words. Do you think that I was born with the ability of great articulation with words? Of course I wasn't. From an early age, I showed an interest in words, semantics, phraseology, grammar, punctuation and morphology. I agree with you when you write that words can brighten one's mood. Words have a profound aesthetic quality to them, and are fun to manipulate. Words are indeed strong, and one word is enough to shatter a person, or to make their day. I don't think that enough people appreciate the way I use my words, though. I've heard many people accuse me of being pretentious, because I 'use big words'. However, there is no pretence involved. I speak the way I speak, and write the way I write, because over the course of my life, I have developed and sustained an interest in words and language. By nature, I have a creative mind, so I tend to talk and write with a distinct flair, without trying to sound self-obsessed. I make sure to keep my brain well-acquainted with words by frequently doing crossword puzzles, looking for anagrams in words, and playing Scrabble. I actually don't do a lot of reading, but when I do, it is generally a pleasure if I'm reading the right stuff. What I want you to understand, is that my vast knowledge of words is not due to luck. I am good with words, because I LIKE words, and find them to be intricate structures of our existence. Who knows? Maybe you could improve your own skills with words, with enough interest and practice. 

Essentially, it all boils down to my childhood interests, as well as my upbringing. As a youngster, I would immerse myself in the Little Golden Books series, as you may have already read. I would sit in my room on a small green plastic chair, and I would read them with the utmost enthusiasm, often for hours uninterrupted. My dad was a major asset to my intellectual development, in the sense that he cultivated my interest in the English language. He would occasionally give up his time to verse me in a game of Scrabble, teaching me new words along the way. Another favourite game of his was making words out of words. I still have sheets of paper lying  around my house that have a long word written at the top, and various smaller words below it, all of which can be found in the long word. My dad is also responsible for fostering my interest in game shows. Every weeknight, we would sit down together, just us two, and watch Sale of the Century, even if I was too young to know most of the answers. I still remember being around seven years old, and my dad sitting me down at the kitchen table, late at night, and writing out a virtual biography of Princess Diana's life. He's always had an interest in the Royal Family. In all honesty, I didn't really care for what he was saying at the time...but I kept that piece of paper - it's resting in one of my drawers as I type this. I'm sorry if I went off on a tangent there. It's just that I miss my dad a lot sometimes. We had so many happy times together, but unfortunately, things will never be the same. At school, I remember looking forward to spelling tests, and being really excited when the class would play Buzz Off. I would either win the game, or be eliminated because the two people next to me said "Buzz off." I would never (OK, maybe once or twice) misspell a word. I still remember being in the primary school equivalent of Advanced English, which, back then, was known as 'the smartest English group' or Ms Marsman's class. I recall her commending me on my fluent reading voice. I remember her teaching my class what the word pelted means. Just a random insertion. All in all, a passion for language isn't something that just spontaneously occurred in me one day. I like language because I wanted to like it, and thankfully, the people around me made that possible. From a very young age, I knew that language would be my forte in life. And I'm far from reaching my peak...there is still a lot of intellectual nourishment to go.

Now on to my habit of correcting people's language. It's not a selfish pursuit. I do it becuase I want people to know right from wrong. I want them to learn from their mistakes, so they do not repeat them in the future. Unfortunately, a lot of people repeat their mistakes. I actually don't correct people as often as I used to. I toned it down a little after sensing that people disliked me for it; that they dreaded my presence, because it meant that they couldn't converse for three minutes without me intervening. Nowadays, I only correct someone if I feel that their mistake is exceptionally bad, or if I sense that the person isn't aware of how to spell a word, as opposed to sheer laziness. I only correct someone if I know him/her as a person. I will not correct someone who I have barely comes off as rude. Correcting my close friends is awkward, as it feels like I'm scrutinising them. I tend to correct my acquaintances more than any other group of people. Many people have told me that they feel pressured to type coherently when talking to me online; that they feel afraid to make an error, or to just type casually. If you're one of these people, then please, don't change yourself just for my sake. Type as you would with anyone who isn't a 'Grammar Nazi'. I'm not going to correct many of your online mistakes, only the ones that I think are genuine. However, if you are someone who types 'lyk dis', then it's best advised that you delete me from your contact list. I often think that I'm the only one who corrects people's language, but I occasionally see others do it too, and it makes me smile inside.

Well, as I draw to a close on this blog, I will reiterate the two points I would like you all to take from it. Firstly, an interest in language, or in anything for that matter, does not develop by itself. It needs to be cultivated in a way that suits the individual. More importantly, the individual must take an active interest in what it is he/she wants to master. Secondly, on a personal note, I do not correct people's language for purposes of selfishness; I merely hope that the person in question realises their faults, so as not to repeat them in the future. I'll leave you with a brief list of common misuses of the English language, which I often find myself correcting. 

* Mixing up your/you're

* Mixing up there/their/they're
* Anyways instead of anyway
* Mixing up did/done
* "Me and (insert name) instead of "(insert name) and I"
* Mixing up its/it's
* Double negatives, such as "I didn't do nothing."

There are many more examples out there, but these are just some of the common ones.


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