Monday, December 31, 2012

Linguistics, accuracy, utility and common courtesy.

I went to see The Hobbit today, and I was going to write about that, but it would only have been what I liked or didn't from a fanperson perspective. Instead, here are some of my opinions on grammar!

I am a bit of a nerd for grammar. In fifth and sixth year I spent a long time considering studying linguistics. My Leaving Cert Spanish teacher once told me that it was clear from my translations and essays that I had a very good grasp of English grammar, which transferred well in understanding the underlying principles. (Thanks, I speak it like a native!) I taught myself Latin for the Junior Cert because I wanted to understand the roots of words and a more rigid set of grammar rules. I will correct my own grammar in conversation rather than hope people don't notice, because it will irk me to leave it incorrect.

In a complete non-contradiction, there are few things that will make me negatively and immediately judge someone's entire character as hearing or seeing them correct someone else's grammar, in real life or online.

To get the exceptions out of the way: You might be a teacher, they might be learning a language and have asked you for pointers*, they might be learning a first language, they might have asked you to proofread a document. If there are others, I can't think of them at this time.

There's a line by Feynman in What Do You Care What Other People Think? that I can't find by skimming through it. He explains that in school he was a poor speller, and that it frustrated him that his teachers cared so much. If it was clear which word he was trying to use, why did it matter whether there were a few letters missing or rearranged? The lesson here isn't that, if you have a good grasp of grammar or are good at spelling, you are smarter than Richard Feynman. It's that Richard Feynman didn't have time for pedanticism where it wasn't needed, and was an uncommonly intelligent man, and these two facts had nothing to do with each other.

Convention is a very handy thing, but the meaning can usually be guessed from context (there/their, you're/your), and if someone is speaking to you casually, or chatting online, or posting in a forum, the aim is surely to communicate, not write eloquent and elegant prose, or even full words. If you halt a conversation because, and to discuss the fact that, someone has offended your sense of aesthetics, you are a terrible conversationalist. People launch into histrionics like "That hurt my eyes to read" or personal attacks like "It's hard to take you seriously when you can't even run a spell-check [in this online discussion in which many people are posting balderdash as truth because they can't be bothered to check Google]" as though they hold the intellectual high-ground. As I said, regardless of what's technically correct (the best kind of correct), the degree to which someone's spelling error or use of txt spk bothers you is down to your own sense of aesthetics, and is no more high-minded than "Can you believe she thinks that top with that skirt?" Language is for communication, and clothes are for not being naked, and bad language and ugly clothes work just fine to those ends.

It seems particularly snobbish to jump down someone's throat for a mistake in English, which is an absolute mongrel language. (Fun grammar fact! When English was being standardised, the pluralisation of 'child' fell through some crack in the system and became a double plural.)

As I said, I am a sap for eloquence, which usually includes good grammar. By all means, correct your own grammar! Let your eye twitch when someone wants to talk about "there expereince"! But say anything about it (barring the caveats above), and you are being flat-out obnoxious.

* I find it really difficult to correct someone's grammar even when they've asked me to. I worked in a language school last Summer, and when I was chatting with the Spanish kids I found it difficult to fight the impulse to speak Spanish so that we could actually have a conversation, or to correct even the most enthusiastic students, even though they were paying to improve their grammar. It's just so abrasive in every other context!

Monday, December 24, 2012

FOs: Christmas knitting edition!

I have finished all my Christmas knitting! I even had time to knit an extra scarf today for a family friend.

This hat was commissioned as a tribute to a hat my friend's boyfriend lost.  The only requirement was that it have a stripe of a highlighter-esque shade of green at the bottom.

It looks more yellow here than it does in real life, but it's reasonably garish anyway. I used Rico Essentials Merino Aran for the black, and some James C. Brett Supreme Baby DK for the green stripes. U have a lot of almost-neon green yarn to use up.

I had intended to make this scarf for my brother, but the stitch was coming out quite lacy for me. I'm a little disappointed, as I think it's a really beautiful pattern, but instead I knit rib 2x2 rib scarf, using the Fibonacci sequence for the striping.  It's knit with Debbie Bliss Rialto Chunky.

I didn't want to carry the yarn up the side in case it was obvious, so I cut the yarn at the end of each stripe, and joined a new strand for each new one, and sewed in all the resulting yarn tails, because clearly I hate myself.

 This isn't a great photo of me or of the scarf, but look at the tree!

Another commission! I went to visit my brother and a friend in England two weeks ago, and I thought I would get a respectable chunk of them finished on the four-hour train journey between them, but I accidently read my book for about three hours of it. I queued this pattern (Ravelry page here) a while ago, and had been looking for occasion to make it. A friend asked me to make a pair of teal fingerless gloves for her mother for Christmas, so I got to use it! It's a bit strangely written, but easy to follow, and I think they're beautiful. The pattern suggested using 4mm needles, but with my tension that would have resulted in them being far too loose, so I used 2.75mm. They don't have a lot of give in them as a result - they take a little wiggling to get into - but they're very cosy. I have another pair in pink blocking on the windowsill to give to my sister tomorrow.

My aunt asked me to make a scarf to match a pair of Willow Tweed gloves she gave to her daughter-in-law a few weeks ago. I couldn't get the same yarn, but I used the same stitch pattern and I'm happy enough with how it came out. 

I can't help taking it personally when people complain that Christmas is materialistic and shallow. I'm definitely guilty of buying a lot of materials in the run-up to Christmas, and then I spend hours of time planning and working and staying up until three in the morning knitting complicated patterns on tiny needles because I want to create something for my loved ones which will make them happy. There's no reason I can't do this any other time of the year, but Christmas is a time at which it's acceptable to make grand gestures without making people feel uncomfortable, and for me, being given something which someone has put hours of work into is a pretty grand gesture, even if it's work they enjoy. As for shallow, bet the people making that complaint don't even create. So.

That pet peeve aside, I find Christmas to be a very lovely and fuzzy time of year, and I hope anyone reading this has a great one.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Free pattern: Santa's Chocolate Orange Tree Decoration

To give credit where it's due, I had this idea after seeing a snowman's head knitted around  a Terry's Orange a few weeks ago. When I went looking for it again my Google-fu failed me, I was all set to write my own pattern when I realised that a Santa hat is more re-usable as a decoration than a hollow knitted snowman's head.


I made these little Santa hats that sit snugly on a Terry's Chocolate Orange to give to people who fall in the awkward realm or present getting where I should give them something, but nothing too formal or personal. This is informal with a personal touch, and they can hang the hat up after the chocolate is gone :)

You will need:

Red DK yarn
White DK yarn
2.75mm circular or double-pointed needles
Darning needle
One Terry’s Chocolate Orange

The pattern can be found here.