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Towards Day 13: Etymologies

Anne Dalke's picture


Course Notes by tgarber and rachelr

Incorrect Etymology #3

I. coursekeeping
welcome back; any non-fictional tales from break?
signing in; notetaking by Tyler and Rachel

II. what's working/what needs working on

A lot is working:  the deliberate conversation Serendip inspires (free topics, shared papers, online "global" writing), collaborative education, "the challenge and responsibility that comes from being in charge of the direction of our own class," becoming more "educatable," seriously changing ways of reading, writing, interacting with your peers

Owl: when people ask questions ... it keeps me true to myself, helps me understand my perspective better, and keeps me from committing to something without really knowing what it is I am committing to.

The main thing most of you want to work on is how we have discussions with one another:

ckosarek: I think that our class sometimes ... gets stuck on something that is ... not able to be argued .... I'm looking for this class ... to accept that which we cannot know and to move on to what we can.

rachelr: we have had a lot of arguments and point-proving sessions .... Hopefully we will be able to control this

SandraG: We do seem to ... every once in a while ... have a sort of competition rather than an open conversation. Rather than being open to new ideas and different points of view everyone seems to attack and shut down to the ideas rather than exploring their potential. I have been guilty of doing this...

EVD: The main thing I would change ... is the way that we discuss ... opinions ... rather than the form of the work

Smacholdt: sometimes discussions can turn into arguments

maht91: sometimes the argument gets centered on one idea ... just refocusing the conversation from time to time will make the class discussion more interesting.

kgould: I think we end up arguing because that's how we've been taught to approach "discussion" .... I know I regularly infringe on Naess's suggestions ... for discussion. And on the suggestions of Stringfellow Barr who ... suggests that the chief reason that conversations deteriorate is that the mind's ear --a listening, mindful ear -- fails. [other advice from Barr: forget declarative monologues; encourage "wild ideas"; interrupt with a question if you do not understand; trust the argument to lead to unexpected understandings; be closer listeners, seeking in common to understand; move with playfulness and a sense of the comic]

veritatemdilexi: The only serious problem I have with the course are the class notes.  I am regretful ... that I spent one of our class sessions trying to document who said what, to whom, and the content of their discussion instead of actively listening to the discussion.

Aya: I do agree that sometimes we move to argument .... I'm afraid that sometimes the basic uncertainty of the answers we reach for the questions we are asking frighten or frustrate people ... we need to be better at accepting that our conversation does not have to reach a concrete end.

[is this the opposite of (or a different version of?)  ckosarek's "accept that which we cannot know and to move on to what we can"?]

III. what we're going to do from here on out

I feel voiceless in this class ... I didn't get much of a say ... in what books we're going to be reading...

Owl: I am hoping that the readings ... will be a little less abstract.

For today: some dictionary work;
for Thursday, War of the Worlds and F for Fake

re-working (=reducing!) the rest of the syllabus

IV. a week from Friday (5 p.m. on Oct. 29),
your second 4-pp. paper is due:
not requiring writing conferences, but am happy to meet-and-discuss this beforehand if you'd like....
* possible topics include Solnit, Naess, dictionary work, radio show, any of the films we'll be viewing (to address Aya's concern, see writing about film: some guidelines);
or any topic that has been raised for you by our discussions (please run this by me first...)

V. Etymologies
Aya: One of interesting issues for the form of reference is that they are not narratives written to be read as whole texts .... most reference material works on a basis of selective information .... I think we should be careful ... to keep in mind issues of form and structure .... part of the goal and aim of nonfiction is often to convey and attain information--'fact'--but often times that means the narrative suffers or is even abandoned.....

FatCatRex on Samuel Johnson's dictionary: "more a narrative of etymology, or a narrative of English culture as it develops and then becomes speech"

so one of the questions on the table today
is whether dictionaries function
(how they function?) as narratives

Etymology of "etymology" =
from Gk etumon, "true sense of the word"

Online Etymology dictionary: This is a map of the wheel-ruts of modern English. Etymologies are not definitions; they're explanations of what our words meant and how they sounded 600 or 2,000 years ago.

Herodotus' World Map ca. 450 BCA

I've learned from the literary critic Jonathan Culler ... that etymologies ... “show us what puns might be if taken seriously.” What gives pleasure is our ability to recognize the connections between two words--or two meanings of a word--that puns refuse to make explicit. Etymologies, which laboriously articulate such connections, “give us respectable puns, endowing pun-like effects with the authority of science.” An etymology is a conscious ordering of the playful associations generated by the unconscious, functioning as “a structural, connecting device ... to offer the mind a sense and an experience of an order that it does not master or comprehend.” Insofar as conceiving such an order “is the goal or achievement of art,” both pun and etymology are “exemplary” agents (Culler, On Puns, 1-6, 16).  Not surprisingly, the accuracy of such word-histories constitutes an ongoing debate among literary scholars....[there are] etymologies that surprise, that seem to us like "stretchers"....

III. Break into groups of 3 to share your (most interesting) etymological discoveries about some of our pairs of keywords:
what else?

come back to the large group to
tell us the "true sense of the words"

what have we learned today about
dictionaries as forms of non-fictional prose?

Course Notes by tgarber and rachelr