OMG: Lol and Behold

Posted: 28 February 2014

How writing and its technology has changed in the last few years...
How writing and its technology has changed in the last few years…

“Language changes very fast” – John Maynard Smith.

As a wordsmith trained in more traditional ways of writing, Bradscribe cannot help but notice the strange, swift and staggering shuffle that has beset the English languge in the last twenty years.

When at university (and loving every windswept, rain-soaked minute of it), up to seventeen years ago(!), mobile phones were just catching on; it swiftly became apparent that texting was becoming the new norm for faster and shorter communication.

With a monumental growth in urbanization, and a corresponding rise in the percentage of the world population who inhabit an urban environment, work-patterns and lifestyles in general have altered tremendously. Cultural values have played a part in the transformation of language(s); but ultimately, the phenomenal proliferation of hand-held technology has had a dramatic impact, bringing a new wave cascade of abbreviated, truncated, slang-driven jargon – completely ripping up the rules of language and how it is utilised. The “written word” seems to be an out-dated concept in itself, with this tendency to text, and even use symbols (emoticons being particularly rife) on rapidly evolving small, touch-type devices.

New words constantly enter the English language (directly derived from texting and other communicative media no less), while disused ones drop into oblivion; moreover, existing words have been swiped by the new-gen to carry entirely different denotations.  

These days, less people write longhand, while more people text
These days, less people write longhand, while more people text

“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Whether it be on the train in England, or in the shopping malls of Thailand, most people seem to have their heads bowed towards their smartphones, endlessly texting, besides loading apps or playing useless games. Bradscribe just glances at this thoroughly modern crowd with a slight amused grin.  If the trains weren’t so ridiculously packed, you could most likely find me ROTFL.

One would say this scene is extraordinary, but it is so mind-bogglingly prevalent that it must surely now count as ordinary activity.

Interestingly, if a peep at some of their texts was possible, the chances of actually understanding any of the slang and abbreviations on show would be minimal. This should not come as a surprise. Such is the bewilderment of a constantly fluctuating language, transmogrifying through multifarious phases since its inception as Old English (derived from Old German) in tangible written form during the 5th century CE. Shaped by social upheavals of the Medieval Period, it twisted and turned into what is labelled Middle English, and then into Early Modern English, before settling on the Modern English used in the present.

With the upgrades in English Comprehension described (and dreaded!) above, it would appear that we are already immersed in the next tantalising stage of this incredible linguistic journey.  

The most widely used language in the world is constantly changing.
The most widely used language in the world is constantly changing.

“Viewed freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all” – Walt Whitman.  

Increasing my presence on Facebook in the last 18 months, the major aspect one has had to get used to is working out what the mass of assorted acronyms included therein actually stand for. Easily, the most common expression to be found amidst the Comments must be the acronym:”lol,” short for Laugh Out Loud.

Originally appearing regularly on Usenet, this expression has since become ubiquitous on just about every other form of computer-mediated communication, and made its debut in the Oxford English Dictionary in March 2011. It is only in recent months that Bradscribe has succumbed to utilising it in his own brief texts.

Will my writing style have to change in order to accommodate these changes in my language? One hopes that drastic alterations will not be needed. While some people strive to move with the times,  it is comforting to know that others will appreciate my adherence to more traditional creative values.   

Part of the wonder of English lies in its ability to have adjusted and adapted across many centuries, while stagnant languages have completely died out.

It just remains to be seen what other tectonic shifts are in store for the English language, and how and when we will seize the chance to use them.

 

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It’s Only a Movie

Posted: 21 February 2014

Historical accuracy or entertaining inaccuracy: which is best?
Historical accuracy or entertaining inaccuracy: which is best?

“Film-makers have a great responsibility. How they present the past is how it gets remembered” – Kate Williams.

Movies cannot be treated as historical records; no matter how much attention to period detail goes into a feature film, as a seasoned historian myself, it should be my duty to point out those glaring discrepancies that litter some epic movies, not just lie back, enjoy a fantastical dramatisation and let blissful miscomprehension, or downright ignorance, of actual past events prevail.

This year, with a slew of big historical movies nominated for Oscars, it becomes imperative that a higher standard of care and attention should be put into such productions.

Yet some directors believe they still have every right to change – even distort – historical facts to provide a faster, leaner – dare one say it – more awesome spectacle. Should they be permitted to do so? 

Winner of Best Ways to Irritate Historians
Winner of Best Ways to Irritate Historians

“Creative artists need to be granted some poetic license, but that should not be a permit for the wholesale disregard of facts in historical fiction” – Allen Ward.   

Here are a couple of examples most relevant to this post. They are fine, classic bodies of work, but when analysed from a historical perspective, they flounder miserably.

One notorious example is Gladiator (2000), which won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but none, it seems, for historical accuracy. Bradscribe hates to say this (as it’s one of his faves), but the collection of inaccuracies on show here are… legion.  

Despite the vow of the renowned director: Ridley Scott to uphold high standards of historical research throughout, one advisor resigned and another requested to go unmentioned in the credits because those standards were simply not met.

Such extensive use of ballistae and catapults in the opening battle would not have been used in a forest-setting; both Roman and Germanian costumes are extremely questionable; stirrups were never used by the Roman cavalry despite being on show here… and so on. 

There is no way one can link this celluloid Commodus to the real-life emperor (hey Joaquin, where’s your beard?); he certainly did not commit patricide, and he lasted 12 years before being assassinated, not 3 hours. And the factual errors which beset the character of Marcus Aurelius are compounded by the inexplicable casting.

Nice helmet, shame about the historical inaccuracies
Nice helmet, shame about the historical inaccuracies

“I didn’t think they had guns then… in the days of Kirk Douglas” – Bunny Warren.

To show that this is not just a problem of modern cinema, enter: The Vikings (1958). Kirk Douglas! Tony Curtis! Ernest Borgnine! How could it possibly go wrong? Well, on several different counts in actual fact.

Kirk Douglas looks fab, yet anything but a Viking. No matter how big a star, if there’s no beard, there’s no credibility. He wears such a cool helmet but – let’s be honest – it was more a product of Hollywood imagination rather than Norse craftsmanship.   

One of the best scenes in the film is also one of its most annoying. The Viking siege of the castle is theoretically absurd; castles were not built until after the Norman Conquest, by which time Norsemens’ raids on the English coast had long since finished. After all the excitement, the drama, not to mention that stirring music score, no one can escape the fact that this whole charade centres around two immigrant boys from the Lower East Side gallivanting around in fancy dress…

Bradscribe will always love this film, but then again, it will always wrestle with his academic sensibilities.  

In conclusion then, movies should not be used as the source material for history essays. These movies can inspire a greater appreciation for history which a lot of books and uninspiring schoolteachers could never do, but the poor research in some productions suggests that not only a greater awareness of the value of history is needed, but the general attitude towards historical knowledge deserves a thorough revision.

This writer is left bemoaning the fact that instead of nitpicking the factual errors of others’ work, he could be working on such storylines, ready to prove that history in itself produced some stirring and dramatic events, packing more punches than any CGI can muster.

 

Energy Boost

Posted: 17 February 2014

What is it that draws writers to coffee?
What is it that draws writers to coffee?

“Coffee is a language in itself” – Jackie Chan.  

The inspiration for this particular post came (funnily enough) purely by accident – ruminating over what would be the next topic for discussion while the daily mug of coffee sat beside the laptop steaming away…  

This marvellous brewed beverage, using roasted seeds of the genus: “Coffea” just happens to be the second most traded commodity (after oil) – let’s face it: dark liquid makes the world go round. Don’t all writers grab a coffee first thing in the morning to zap away the drowsiness? Just what is it that blends (sorry) creators and coffee?

Some brain chemistry is required here. Possibly the most potent psychoactive stimulant in the known universe, caffeine blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine responsible for that drowsy feeling, while increasing the potency of other excitatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine, thus heightening alertness, energy and – yes!enhancing the ability to get some work done!  

Wonder how many cups of coffee those scientists downed in order to acquire that data?

Bean there, done that
Bean there, done that

“Science may never come up with a better office communication system than the coffee break” – Earl Wilson.  

In the average cuppa there are approximately 200mg of caffeine, and in an average day no more than 600mg (3 cups) should be downed. Whoa, go easy there!

You would think that the humid climate at which this writer chooses to pursue his profession would necessitate the desire for iced coffee, but that’s not the case, especially when sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned cafe. In actual fact, the most common brew in Asia: iced cappuccino offers more sugar and fat than caffeine, so it’s better if you served my drink pipng hot, if you please…

As long as he could remember, the bane of Bradscribe’s existence has been lack of energy, but nowwith a coffee-maker amidst the items in our new abode, my mornings have got off to a bright and proactive start. Moreover, in addition to caffeine, a well-brewed cuppa offers antioxidants. Both of these substances are known to have substantial health benefits and anti-aging qualities. 

Yay, drink up!

This blooger loves Mocha!
This blogger loves Mocha!

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt” – Charles M. Schulz.  

Personally, above all others, Bradscribe loves Mocha – that scintillating mix of espresso, milk, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. If anyone is taking notes, this year sees the tenth anniversary of my passion for Mocha. Not so keen on latte, and wary about downing a dodgy cappuccino (it’s amazing how frequent they can be…), yet traditionally a happy tea-slurper, it’s staggering to think how Mocha could have tantalised my taste buds in this seemingly unexpected manner.

So, what’s the Story of Mocha? Where does it come from?   

The rise of Islam played a pivotal role in the rise of coffee consumption. With alcohol prohibited to Muslims, coffee became a regular staple in Arabia. The first (recorded) instance of coffee drinking comes from the Sufi monasteries of Yemen.  Indeed, the Yemeni town most closely associated with my fave hot beverage is… lo & behold: Mocha.

The Arabic word: “qahwa” became the Turkish: “kahve” but it wasn’t until 1582 when the Dutch name: “koffie” entered the English language under its present form. Out of the numerous tomes on “The History of Coffee” there does not appear to be a “History of Mocha.” It looks like my next writing project has just nudged its way forward…

In this modern age, with the advent of big multi-national brands, coffee is ubiquitous. Whether it be Bangkok, Singapore or even London, you can find this writer sipping a tall, hot Mocha while editing his papers.

Until the next brew Blog, enjoy your coffee, but watch those calories!