Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thomas and Julie playing together

This is the cutest thing I've ever seen that's on youtube, but astoundingly, it's probably not the cutest thing I've seen this week.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Felicitous diction 1: No, It's Not Going to Start With Jane Austen.

Now that I'm (snicker) a professional blogger, I need some more blogging discipline. And since the audience here is way more homey and less critical, I think I'll warm up my blogging discipline at the expense of my friends. And since it's hard to justify blogging about my academic obsession here (since I'm obliged to it there), I decided to do something off-the-cuff.

Hence, a new (daily? it could be daily! we'll have to see!) series: Things I Like To Read. See that carefully crafted thematic territory? You don't? Well, I said off the cuff.

Part 1 of the series will focus on one of my pets about literature: felicitous diction. I go crazy for felicitous diction.

The funny thing about really spine-tingling word choice, for me, is that I sometimes don't notice a writer has it until the second, third, or fifth time through a novel. But if it's there, I usually notice it in spades once I get past the third reading. I'm probably going to concentrate on one book at a time here, just introducing a representative example and explaining why it is, to my ears, felicitous diction. At the end I'll explain why felicitous diction is so key to my literary appetite.

1.1: No, It's Not Going to Start With Jane Austen. (But Yes, It Will Probably End There.)

Why not Jane Austen? Well, because it's fitting (for Deep Thematic Reasons that are totally half-baked at this time, and perhaps even because it's off-the-cuff) to start with felicitous diction in some of the earliest books I remember reading. Yes, children's literature.

I actually didn't have as many memories of picture books as some other people I know, before I had my own kids. I'm certain I could count on one hand the books I really remembered something of (and yes, that counts Dr. Seuss). The two that have memorable, felicitous diction are not, as one might expect, catchy poetry. They are poetic, but not poetry.

The Poky Little Puppy. The funny thing about this choice is it's hardly anything but felicitous diction, from "Five little puppies dug a hole under a fence and went for a walk in the wide, wide world" all the way to "No desserts EVER unless puppies NEVER dig holes under this fence again!" For me, at least at age 3 or 4, it was not the story (such as it was) that kept this treasure going (and I wore it out). No, it was that one line:

And down they went to see, roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble, till they came to the green grass, and there they stopped short.

Why (in retrospect) was this felicitous diction? Well, it has alliteration and assonance in spades, complete with some complex alliteration in the repetition of p- and b- sounds. It had enough familiar words to clue me in to the meaning ("roly", "tumble") but one completely opaque set ("pell-mell"). And the rhythm of it sounded like overeager puppies bouncing down a hill: beginning with liquids and a little bump, continuing with the short abrupt bouncing of "pell-mell", and finishing with a fully satisfying "tumble-bumble".

I actually remembered this phrase at 27 and bought my son the book anticipating reading him that exact phrase. It never disappoints.