An Abundance of WORDS & Progress

Day before yesterday, the day after Deeds of Youth‘s birthday, I had a call from my agent, with the latest group of suggestions for Horngard I.   They sounded like good suggestions to me, and doable, and the practice of completing several short stories since the April 29  head whack had proved that the plot-module had not regressed into the mess it was after the big head injury in 2018, so I’ll be tackling all the suggestions in the next few weeks.  Even one thing previously mentioned (with increasing nudges from my agent)  that my heels were somewhat dug in against…  My reaction now is “Oh, yeah, that isn’t on the main line of that book’s plot.  I’ll just yank it out and make a short side-story out of it that can be released once the book is out for several months.  Enrichment for some readers, unnecessary for others.”   Taking a long sabbatical (for me!) from the book and writing other things has definitely helped.

My agent had handed it of to be read by someone else in the bunch that now inhabit the 5th floor, not the 12th, of their building.   So it was someone else’s comments, someone I haven’t met, and I’m impressed by what he picked up on (or maybe by my returning neural capacity…who knows for sure?  Not me.)   One of the things the other person said, however, spurred me into a bit of word investigation:  “What is a paladin (in this book/place/time” was the compressed version my agent gave me.  The individual was familiar with the Dungeons & Dragons version.  Well.  My  discovery of the D&D rules about paladins, when I was handed the stack of books and asked to be the person reading up on the rules while others played (this while I was trying to write something else), is what got me determined to change said rules, at least for local play.  For some of the reasons, see the long explanation in the Paksworld blog (and maybe elsewhere); coming out of a background in ancient/medieval history I found the Gygax concept of “paladin” demeaning.  Infuriating, even.  Naturally some of the players weren’t thrilled to have their player characters being hit with NEW rules, but we worked that out (the DM was my husband, who had his own problems with the rules) and they agreed to try a change for paladin chracters that required them to work up to earning the designation the way historical paladins did….as basic fighters.

However, at some point I forgot where I’d first read about paladins as a kid (found it in an old book of fiction for kids that referenced Arthurian/Round Table stories), and then later versions in classes about medieval literature.  So I decided to check out the etymology of the word, and that sent me to our Compact Oxford English Dictionary (2 volumes, each very large, heavy, and in TINY type).  As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten harder to use–a combination of causes, including the difficulty of wrestling one of the big heavy volumes out of its slipcase, and the difficulty of reading more than one line of the TINY type at a time, due to needing both reading glasses for near vision AND the magnifying glass the set came with.  I found the word easily enough, but trying to balance the volume on my knees while keeping the reading glasses at the right spot on my nose *and* deploying the magnifying glass in one hand–a hand not as steady as it used to be–was much more difficult than it was when I could lie on the floor with it and stick my face right down almost on the page.  Ah, well.  I also have more trouble getting up from the floor.

Shorter form of the whole discussion of the word:  paladin is related to palace and paladins were warriors/knight *of* the palace in Charlemagne’s time.  Other meanings accrued, as they do when people latch onto a new term and every person called that adds to the meaning of the word.   With my antipathy to the D&D concept of paladin, defining what a Paksworld paladin is follows the traditional trail of how the word was used within, say, 400-500 years of its first appearance.   Warrior/knight is always there at root.  Part of a defined group (knights of a particular type and group) , often found acting alone on a certain type of quest or assignment (knight errant) to right wrongs or find something important, etc.

And now to abundance of words.   In the course of doing all this research, and writing the post on Paksworld, it occurred to me to wonder what the cost of a new, complete, full-sized OED would be these days and whether I could afford it.   So…I looked it up online.  Back when I was in college the first time, the then-complete OED was smaller than now (and I don’t remember which edition Fondren Library at Rice had, so I hesitate to guess…somewhere between 10 and 15 I think.)    I could get a brand new 20-volume  one for less than a decent horse or most cows.   Less than a new saddle.  Or…and it was there on the same page…I could get a used older edition for somewhat less.   The difference of course is the new words and new meanings for old words that have come out of the past 50 years…English just vacuumed those new words right up, and the new meanings of old ones, too.

But…for what I write…the OED of my college years is/was more than adequate.  It’s the OLD words I hunt up most.  Like…oh…paladin.  Like grange, and barton, which I found when I was looking up the right words for where peasants might meet to plot trouble for the magelords.   I can still swim in the newer words–they don’t drown me because I hear them in use a lot, online and in the wild of town, city, store.  But the old words, those are the words I need to dig into (as I did in looking for “where to Girdish people meet…both when it started and later?”  And the Compact OED, which I could still see clearly at the time, offered up grange and barton and gave me variant spellings that had a history, that *felt* right, in my mouth and *looked* right on the page.  Like a real old stone wall (not just one made of fresh-cut stone, treated with a chemical and maybe having some seeds spread on it to attract birds that would poop on it) , some words carry the patina of long usage.  Maybe the meaning shifted some, maybe the book paladin has powers that Charlemagne’s twelve armed men didn’t…but every meaning that brushes up against a word gives it a unique color and tone.  Not every reader notices.  Not every reader cares.  But…for me…the increasingly aged reader, the increasingly aged writer, whose life has left scars and lumps and hollows of experience…the whole history of words is a clue to their best use…and why “barton” is better than “cow shed”  and “grange” has more resonance than “grain-barn.”

So the older OED is coming to me, all 13 volumes of WORDS and words about words, and now I have to figure out how to give it the space it will need.  It needs to be where I can pull out any volume easily, and put it back easily.   In looking for some books to move (and what might be “o wailie woe” discarded or “re-homed”)  I found an old paperback mystery by a writer I used to be very fond of, Ngaio Marsh.   This was an earlier one and I didn’t remember it, so I read it (of course) and then remembered it vaguely.  She had a particular style, of course…but in this volume it has not aged particularly well, in my very biased opinion.   She uses the right number of words, and usually deploys them well, but I don’t think she dug into depths of some of her words…she was writing along, making something happen (good) and  trying for an atmosphere, in that particular book, that would be hard to do for anyone.   But the very intensity of the language came off as surface intensity, like painting something orange so it would stand out, when the thing would have stood out just as well if it had been a virulent blue.  (Warning:  One of the things that happens to writers is an increasing itch to fix other peoples’ books.  Not to be indulged!!  Other people get to write their books…you or I get to write our own books.)

It probably won’t arrive before ArmadilloCon, which is good, because otherwise I’d be tempted to carry at least one volume down to Austin with me and spend the entire con buried in WORDS, trying to handle every one of them, fondle them, say them, bore people to tears reading all the etymological notes about them.   I need to get on with the Horngard I revisions so I don’t jump into the newly arrived and set up OED like a kid in one of those ball pits or foam block pits, and just wallow in words for a week or two.    It’s coming in two boxes.  Two HEAVY boxes.


4 thoughts on “An Abundance of WORDS & Progress

  1. One of my favourite old words is ‘nithing’ – a person of no worth or honour, contemptible. There’s so many people one can apply it to these days… 🙂

    1. I like that! I vaguely remember having seen it–read it–before and then it slid away. Thank you for restoring it to my old and somewhat holey brain.

  2. Not the online version? It saves on space and you can probably resize the font so you don’t need a microscope to read it. But perhaps you just prefer paper, or don’t want to have to pay an annual subscription in perpetuity.

  3. I find that you can tell which writers savour the language as they write, and I find that I enjoy those books more than others. There’s a satisfying richness to them. I’m willing to wait longer for them to come out, because they are truly crafted, not just written.
    Thank you.

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