Thursday, December 10, 2015

Publications, poetry, prizes and the press

Literary News
Miguel River’s article “Recuperación de la ciudad y de la fiesta en Antonio José Ponte” was published in Chasqui: Revista de Literatura Latinoamericana.

Mary Stone’s poem "Perhaps Too Many Poems End with Hangovers" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the I-70 Review. 

Mike Cadden presented “Peritextual Elements in Children’s Chapter Books” at the fall meeting of the Northwest Missouri Council of the International Literacy Association in St. Joseph.  

The submission period for The Mochila Review's undergraduate writers' contest, the Undergraduate MoRe Prize, was Oct. 1, 2015, to Dec. 1, 2015. The journal's editor-in-chief, Dr. Marianne Kunkel, and its staff are pleased to announce that national interest in the contest increased this year, the contest's second year in existence. Seventy-one undergraduate writers across the country submitted to the contest, which is 12 more than last year's submission total. This year's contest is exclusively open to fiction writers and the winning story will be selected by guest judge Ellen Hopkins ( The winner (and possible runners-up) will be announced January 1, 2016, on The Mochila Review's website ( and be featured in the 2016 issue of the journal.

In the media
Liz Canon was recently asked “Why is elder a good word, but elderly a bad word?”  Her reply will appear in the Venice Gondolier Sun newspaper. Here it is, for your erudition:

Liz: Tell me about the process through which the connotation of some words changes. 

Pejoration is what linguists call the process by which a word’s meaning becomes less positive. This is something that happens quite a bit in language. For instance, the word,lewd, originally had the meaning of "layperson." It moved a bit toward "ignorant," and then "common," and then "obscene." Over time, the positive nature of the word eroded and it went from something you wouldn't mind being called to something you definitely would not want to be called.

Does the process require individuals in a society to undergo personal, long-term change in their thought process about a certain word? Or does it happen more quickly than that? 

The speed at which the change occurs will happen based on attitudes of the speakers toward what they are talking about. It really all comes down to frequency and usage - if the term is used often by a lot of people, the change may occur more quickly. If the word is fairly obscure, the change will probably happen more slowly. Human events can cause a rapid shift in meaning. The word, swastika, was a Sanskrit word that meant "well-being," but human events very quickly change the meaning of the word. The Oxford English Dictionary dates its first English usage in 1871 - and at that time it had no negative connotations. But usage by the Nazis changed the meaning of the word. It no longer has the meaning of well-being, but now means the symbol on the Nazi flag - something far more negative.

Does the media play a role? Current events?

The media can play a role. Input in general plays a role. In other words, the more we hear a word used in a particular way, the more likely we are to admit that it no longer means what it used to and we have to adjust. Consider the word "gay." Our grandparents used it to mean "happy." But it is now used even by our grandparents to mean "homosexual." I can't think of a context where it is still used to mean happy.

I believe the current events part of the question was answered above.

Pejoration was happening long before political correctness, but has PC sped up the process for some words?

Not exactly. The sad thing is that focusing on language usage and not addressing the underlying attitudes that affect the usage of particular words just perpetuates the cycle. Consider the notion of replacing "housewife" with "domestic engineer." Does anyone really think that that will elevate the status of a person who works only in the home? Consider also the word "retarded," which was regularly used to identify a person with a learning disability of some sort - a person whose learning was delayed. In other words, it had a concrete, object meaning with no negative connotation in and of itself. Ultimately, it was used as an insult to describe people without any sort of learning disability, and "retarded" became a victim of pejoration. So in order to avoid causing offense we began to call people with learning disabilities "special." And then the cycle repeats. The underlying attitude toward those who fall in the category described by that word has not changed and so every substitution you make will likely suffer the same fate as "retarded" did.

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