Posted by lpearle on 6 January 2010
In which we mourn the loss of two words: gay and twitter.
As I read Grossman’s The Magicians, I paused for a moment over the following sentence:
“Oh dear, oh dear!” Julia twittered “The duchess! We shall be quite late!”
Right now, most of my students have at least heard of Twitter. Most aren’t using it (or care to try), but they’ve heard the word. How long before it becomes as much a part of their vocabulary as, say, mouse? When I was in school, pre-computers, mouse was either a shy person or a rodent. Now? Not so much.
I think that the creators of Twitter used the name advisedly, but when people in the future see this word in a book I can see the confusion. “Why are they twittering if they’re in front of the person?” “How did they twitter in the 1800s?” It’s much the same as the confusion I hear about gay – explaining that while we did occasionally wonder about Fred and Barney, we didn’t wonder in that way; “Gay Paree” is not an arrondissement akin to the Castro and the Gay 90s didn’t follow Stonewall.
There are other words that have been taken over by technology and current social events, to be sure. How do we explain them without seeming too old fogie-ish? How do we keep literature relevant to students when there’s room for misunderstandings that we may not be aware of, because if the time in which it was written (or the time in which we first read it)?
When I try to sell “older” (i.e., classic) books to students, I find that I have to caution them with a “now, remember, the plot and the language aren’t going to be like Twilight/Harry Potter/Alex Rider/Sarah Dessen”. To many students credit, they’ll try, and often find that the world of Edmund Dante or Meg, Jo and Amy is as enchanting as I found it. But more and more, I find that these newly repurposed words trip them up.
Any suggestions? Do we need a translation/glossary in each book?