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what are words for

I haven't had time to update here due to some other things going on. One is a guy I used to work with was feeling discouraged because he left his job a few months ago and hasn't found a new job yet. I and another friend shared some thoughts about our respective unemployment.

My latest acquisition from the Mountain View library is Conway and Guy's The Book of Numbers. So far, it's been an interesting read. It actually gave me part of the answer to something I'd wondered about from my French studies. The French express the number 80 as the compound word "quatre-vingt" (literally, four twenties). However, some other French-speaking nations have individual words for 80. I probably should have associated it with the (Middle) English "four score," although I thought most Romance languages were derived from Latin. Italian, Portuguese, Spanish (other Romance languages) don't have a compound word for 80. The Welsh word for 80 is "pedwar ugain," which translates to "four twenties," in the same way as the French and (Middle) English.

Investigating the root of words reminds me of something I used to do when I was very young. We had big unabridged dictionary on the wall unit that I used to spend a lot of time with just looking up words and where they came from. (My mother's parents had one also as I recall.) It wasn't something I had to do for any particular reason ... I was just curious, and it was a way to pass the time.

And now, for a little rant (not really part of the meme; this has just been on my mind lately) ... I've noticed that the quality of spelling has gone down quite a bit over the last twenty years or so. While some of this can be attributed to typing errors, there still has been a decline. But I wonder if spelling is really worth spending a lot of time on in the modern world. I've seen misspellings that would sound correct phonetically, and these people seem to be able to make themselves understood. (Moreover, some of these folks have outstanding academic stats.)

I was a pretty good speller when I was young. Not bragging (because I don't think this is much of a big deal any more) ... I once nearly beat an eighth grader in a spelling bee when I was in the fifth grade. I placed second in my school district, and was the alternate in the city-wide spelling bee. (I still remember the trip my fifth grade class took to cheer on the eighth grader, who was surprised that she had a section of the audience in her corner because no group from her school came to cheer her on.)

So why the rant? I wonder if becoming a good speller was really worth it. I could remember the words from books (and dictionaries), but couldn't always remember what they meant. More to the point, I wonder if it might have been more beneficial to learn something more useful in the modern era, such as how to swap two values without using a temporary variable, or some other problem-solving oriented things.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 3rd, 2005 12:44 am (UTC)
I will admit to being a snob about spelling and grammar (though a typo is understandable). I used to be a lot worse about it, until I met my husband, who is dyslexic.
It does drive me nuts, however, those out there who misspell on purpose, perhaps to cover up that they cannot spell.

oh.. and while I'm at it, no one seems to know how to write a proper email at work, either. gah! I know ... part of my problem is I was an English major in college before switching to photography.
Feb. 3rd, 2005 04:50 am (UTC)
I think that a side effect of consuming books as a child is being able to spell a vast plethora of words and to use them correctly in context, but still be unable to verbalize their definitions.

I used to drive my english teachers batty with that. I could spell. I /knew/ what words meant and could use them with ease in a sentence. Trying to pull a definition out of me was like trying to beat honey out of an otter.
Feb. 3rd, 2005 06:00 am (UTC)
I've noticed that the quality of spelling has gone down quite a bit over the last twenty years or so. While some of this can be attributed to typing errors, there still has been a decline.

I don't neccesarly disagree with you, but do you have any evidence to back this up or is it just a vague impression you have?
Feb. 3rd, 2005 01:15 pm (UTC)
It's a vague impression, based on reading blogs, journals, newsgroups, etc. vs. newsgroups, etc. 20 years ago. One could conduct a study using some of the newsgroups or mailing lists that were in existence 20 years ago and are still around today (or their equivalents, e.g. soc.singles was net.singles). Since some people who were around back then still contribute to said groups, the study could also reveal if there are any changes in individuals' abilities as well as across all participants.

BTW, now that I've got you here, when you learned trig, did you learn how to use log-trig tables? This was a major topic in my trig curriculum. I checked my high school's math web page and there is no mention of log-trig tables now. As I recall, they may not have been part of the unified math curriculum but were part of the NY State Regents curriculum. The use of log-trig tables is something else that I wonder if a more modern topic might have been more beneficial.

Feb. 3rd, 2005 10:08 am (UTC)
Many of us who have a reasonable command of spelling and grammar greatly appreciate the efforts of others when composing written text. Poor spelling and grammar make for unpleasant reading.

As to whether it was worth it, I can only say that it was worth it to me. :-)

Feb. 3rd, 2005 01:16 pm (UTC)
In all fairness, my spelling isn't what it used to be. Neither is my grammar. I had an eighth grade teacher who was a real stickler for proper grammar.
Feb. 3rd, 2005 06:37 pm (UTC)
My (two) English teachers have loved me because I don't misspell (if writing in-class stuff, I just won't use a word if I feel uncertain, and I'm a stickler for looking up things away from class) and can punctuate properly (although I do have an uncommon fondness for commas). I hadn't realized how much they might appreciate this sort of thing until I started reading other students' papers as we passed them around for critique/suggestions. *shakes head* It's appalling, really, and drives me utterly batty that people just don't care, but like you said, it's just not as much a concern, or something. I dunno.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )