Our dictionary

Have you ever heard an Australian say ‘our dictionary’ when talking about the Macquarie?

I think that’s partly because the Macquarie Dictionary is “Australia’s National dictionary”. But it also feels like it is ours. It has our slang, both old and new, and it captures the subtleties of Australian English. It’s also where we can find beautiful regional words and phrases, like three-corner jack.

All this is thanks to the hard work of the lexicographers and editors at the Macquarie. But it doesn’t stop there.

Baubles and word play

Recently, after a few too many hours editing and writing, I was troubling over of the definition of the word bauble. A lovely word, to be sure, but if you’ve stared at it too long it can – like any word – begin to befuddle you. I checked both the spelling and the meaning in the Macquarie and was quite surprised to find that it was not defined as a Christmas ornament.

After chatting with a couple of wonderful writers and looking in a few other dictionaries, we decided that the Macquarie might possibly be lacking something. I didn’t really believe that – I thought there must have been a system (read user) error.

One writer suggested I contact the Macquarie as she’d heard they are open to feedback.

So, I did.

I passed on our thoughts and our references. I couched it in terms of seeking their opinion. I’ll be honest: I expected no response.

And this is usually the where the story ends. In a dry, lonely corner of inattention. Yet another dull little ‘thank you’ auto-reply.

Not this time.

I heard back. I heard back quickly. And I heard back from the lady herself – Susan Butler, editor of the Australian Macquarie.

They listened. They welcomed our feedback. And here’s the big bit – they used it. With our information as the kick-off, their experts had prepared new entries and definitions.

The dictionary – our dictionary – will change. Next year, these new entries will go in when they upload all of the other updated words and listings in the online dictionary.

Would you like to see what will go in?

Too bad. No spoilers from me. You’ll have to wait.

Make it your own

As pleasantly surprised as I was, I shouldn’t have been.

The Macquarie has always been this way.

In the very first edition, a newsletter was included that encouraged contributions from dictionary users, as referenced in The Macquarie Dictionary, its History and its Editorial Practices.

The Australian Word Map has long been there to receive and discuss regionalisms. And if you have a brand new shiny word that you think should be in our dictionary, you can add a word yourself.

For me, this experience has been like manna from word-lover-heaven.

Next time you find yourself wondering at something in the Macquarie, don’t leave it at that. Question it, discuss it and send them your thoughts.

Our dictionary is our dictionary because, as always, it contains our words.

What more could you ask for?

Writing hack anyone?

Don’t mind if I do…

Yesterday I had my second go at Twelve – a twelve hour writing lock-in at the SA Writers Centre. That’s it. No tricks. Sit down, write. Go.

Was it good? Yes.

Should you do it? I don’t know.

Let me explain.

It’s good

Damn me, but it’s good. So good it hurts.

It hurts physically. I lost myself so thoroughly that I forgot to move for hours on end.

It also hurts creatively. At hour 11, just to keep pushing, I found myself writing when I had forgotten how to write a proper sentence. How can that be good for me? Because, despite that, I was still writing. The neurons were firing, the bits of my brain that I need to keep limber and elastic were being worked – perhaps overworked – but they were still going. Any other day, I would have stopped writing, but I kept on.

I guess, in a way, I was hacking my own brain. Don’t worry, that’s a good thing.

Is it for everyone?

I truly don’t know. Even if I knew you, if you were a close personal friend, I wouldn’t know if you should do it.

For me, seeing other writers writing whenever I look up is an incentive to keep writing. It’s a tonic.

It isn’t pressure, it’s the opposite. We’re all there by our own hand. We’re typing, scribbling and creating because we want to. It is almost inexplicably good.

For anyone else, I can’t say. The way we write, the act of writing, is personal and individual. All I can say is that I think it might be worth having a go. You might discover something about yourself as a writer that you never knew.

That’s enough from me for now. There’s a great big pile of words I need to go and read. This time, they’re mine.

Where is the hope?

Recently I listened to an action-packed, science and sci-fi friendly podcast from studio360.org. There are so many fascinating and stellar ideas and names in the Will Sci-Fi Save Us podcast that it would fill up a week’s worth of blog articles to go into it. Think of everything from David Brin to the Benford brothers and you have a hint. Add in a touch of electric sheep and blade runners… and I know you’ve run off and are ignoring the rest of this article.

One of the main themes at the start of the podcast was the notion of the loss of hope – or the onset of dystopian popularity – in science fiction.

I am not here to say what’s wrong about that. I’m a fan of both China Miéville and James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon). You couldn’t get much further from hope than the stories of dear Alice. But I am also a fan of hope.

To quote the podcast: “…everybody ‘knows’ that good science fiction is grim…”   But it hasn’t always been so and it doesn’t need to be that way. As David Brin says “It’s so easy to make money with a tale that says ‘our civilization is garbage’…”.

So, the more hopeful your sci-fi story the harder it is to sell? Yet author after author has done just that. I can give you examples, but it is best you discover them for yourself. No spoilers here.

I won’t leave you hopeless though.

As a way to celebrate National Science Week I’ve written a short-short that has a smoking gun of hope. It was done as a writing challenge, so it’s under a hundred words and in the first person, but a story it is. Enjoy.

Found

a short story by Rosalie Wodecki

“Oh, my god. I can’t believe it.”

I looked back over my shoulder. My family looked as stunned as I felt.

There was smoke rising from a chimney in the rundown house on the hill. There were no flames nearby. No trees burnt from lightning. But there was a garden. I couldn’t remember the last time we had seen a garden. My youngest probably wouldn’t even know what it was. We’d been walking for so long.

I touched my wife’s arm. “We’re not alone.”

For the first time in what must have been months, we’d found it. We’d found hope.

 

Cracked wide open

greenhouses in a row, black and white photoIn the next couple of weeks we’ll be having an opening night and I’ll be giving an artist’s talk for a group photographic exhibition. As well, I’ll be doing my first live reading of an unpublished short story.

Somehow these creative pursuits have all snuck up on me. Or sneakily come out into the open. It doesn’t seem that long ago that most of this was hidden comfortably inside.

I don’t know when it started, although with words it grew from my love of reading. Photography is from watching and appreciating too. From there the story gets more complicated. When did it all turn outward?

I don’t think I want to overanalyse it, but I do want to take a moment to appreciate it.

Some years ago I was told to take a personality test. Oh, yes. You know the sort of thing I mean. I can hear you groaning.

It tagged me as ‘not the creative type’. Whatever that means. When people wield clipboards at you like this it’s best to laugh and back slowly away.

Next time someone tells you that you’re something you are not, do one of two things. Do you not like what you hear? Make sure you take it as personal insult and allow it to drive you to make it totally untrue. If you like it, roll with it and make it your own.

We all have our natural inclinations, but it doesn’t have to be the whole of us. Dig deep, encourage that sense of wonder and see what happens.

You might be surprised by what you unearth.