Single inverted commas

Although it is usual to enclose a word under discussion in single inverted commas, I have chosen instead to emphasise it in red to prevent confusion with apostrophes.
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Thursday, 25 June 2015

Verbal, oral and aural

Strictly, verbal means "in words" and refers to something written whereas oral means spoken. Aural refers to the sense of hearing.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Practical Criticism

This is a method of approaching a text, often a poem, where the reader or student is given no background information about authorship, date or background. The analysis must therefore concentrate on the words on the page and devices used. It has fallen out of fashion recently since its promotion by I. A. Richards in the 1920's but it can be a useful method of ensuring a fresh response to a work.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Tautology and pleonasm

These two terms are similar in meaning as both refer to unnecessary words. Some critics regard them as interchangeable but there is a useful difference.

Tautology refers to the repetition of words with the same meaning: big, huge, large man
Pleonasm occurs when the idea contained in one word is repeated by another: huge giant.
Pleonasm could be seen as a sub-type of tautology. The adjectives are: tautologous and pleonastic
Repetition can be used effectively for emphasis.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Principal and principle

These two words sound alike and so it is only in writing that their endings are confused.
Principal means head or chief and you can see the a in both. You could also think that the Principal of your school will never be your pal.
Principle means a belief and a way of remembering it is to think of asking someone to follow it please where you can see the ple in both.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Affect and effect

These two words are easily confused. In practice you can forget about affect as a noun (the affect) as its usage is largely psychological/medical. This leaves:
affect as a verb meaning "to change": the experience affected his attitude
effect as a verb meaning "to bring about":  she effected an improvement in working conditions
effect as a noun meaning "result": the effect was just what she wanted

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The experience of reading a novel

   This post will not give answers or definitions but it will examine what happens when you read a novel. In one sense you enter a contract with the author: s/he has produced a text which you will attempt to enjoy and believe in. Your role can also include filling in, with your imagination, some details which the writer has omitted but care must be taken here. Although in real life there is a possibility of knowing a fact which is not apparent immediately, such as whether or not a neighbour has a mole on his shoulder, we will never find that out about Sherlock Holmes. 
   The issue is one of implication and inference: the author implies and the reader infers according to the clues given. The text is therefore an object to which the reader contributes and, in that way, it is not static. (We often paint in our minds a picture of a character's appearance and are then irritated if an actor in a TV adaptation does not fit that portrait.)
   The text will create a world which the characters inhabit but all we have is the words on the page. From those words we recreate this world so that the text is a link between the author's imagination and our own. Caution is needed when we respond to a character as it is easy to criticise a writer for inconsistency or making a personage do something we feel s/he would not do but this may be the fault of our over-active participation rather than a flaw in the novel.
   It is possible to read on different levels: merely enjoying the narrative or examining the techniques used to achieve the result. Some writers draw attention to their own methods and remind us that we are reading fiction by metanarrative, a distancing device which can, paradoxically, make the work seem more real by insinuating that the characters are out of control since they lead their own lives.
   Reading is a complex activity and your analysis will be deeper if you contemplate the process.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Synonyms and antonyms

Synonyms are words with similar meanings and antonyms are opposites. An easy way to remember is that synonyms and similar both begin with s. You can buy dictionaries of them (e.g. Penguin) and this is a good way of improving your vocabulary but take care. Even words with close approximations differ as to register and function and so it is best to encounter them when reading before using them yourself. There is also the famous Roget's Thesaurus which gives phrases as well and is a fascinating book in its own right but even more liable to lead to errors of style.