I discovered this last weekend in Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, at the 23rd annual Virginia Festival of the Book. Authors too are alive and well, and abundant. There were hundreds of them, surrounded by thousands of books, at tables filling the lobby of the Omni Hotel. Along with hundreds more of bibliophiles, browsing and buying.
Even the sun contributed to the festivities, shining benevolently through a cool sky on outdoor book displays.
There were program sessions too, more than a hundred of them. I spoke Saturday morning at the nearly filled City Council Chambers, along with the professor and editor Robert Rubin, on malapropisms and new words. Rubin did the malapropisms, accompanying each with a laugh-inducing cartoon he had done himself. I did new words, taking the opportunity to tell about the American Dialect Society’s Words of the Year.
As Rubin spoke, it dawned on me — as it has in the past — that our two topics were in fact one. Malapropisms, after all, are just familiar words repurposed in an effort to make more sense. Going to Hell in a Hen Basket is the title of Rubin’s new book. To some people, hen basket makes more sense than hand basket, and if enough people make the same malaprop, we’ll nave a new name, hen basket.
Language is not logical but conventional, I said. Malapropisms are attempts to make what one hears or reads more logical.
I told a bit about our “first and last” WOTY vote, and two dozen audience members wrote nominations for the first three months of WOTY 2017 on ballot slips. Not surprisingly, Trumpish vocabulary was prominent: “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and “bigly” each got two votes. The rest were scattered, everything from “hot mess” to “whataboutism.”
Our session was chosen for live streaming by C-Span and for archiving there too. If you’d really like to watch the whole hour plus, just search for “Allan Metcalf” on the C-Span website.
But the most amazing sight in Charlottesville was outside the main entrance to the council chamber where we had our session. It’s a 7½-foot-high wall with a supply of chalk for people to write on in exercising their First Amendment rights. It was constructed 11 years ago by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. The center’s director, Josh Wheeler, moderated our session.
And here I freely express my gratitude for the invitation that brought me there and the hospitality once I was there. The center took care of my transportation needs too, with complimentary rides by local volunteers. I’ll give the names of mine: Jim and Joanne Foster, Gale Courtney, and Andrew Parsons. Thanks!Return to Top