Monday, November 29, 2010


So today in English class we held a discussion about the book Reading Lolita in Tehran. The book, written by Azar Nafisi, alludes to Lolita, a novel written by Vladimir Nabokov. In both Reading Lolita in Tehran and Lolita there are situations of oppressor and victim. In Reading Lolita Nafisi describes the brutal and sometimes arbitrary rule of the Islamic Republic of Iran. One harsh law includes forcing women to wear the chador (veil) in public. The government even confiscated many satellite dishes (that seems to be one of the stranger regulations, especially to people like me… of western culture). One big idea came to mind: censorship. Limiting what people can do, hear, see, or know. In Lolita, Humbert Humbert is the oppressor and Lolita the victim. It is important to note that Humbert is the narrator of the Lolita; therefore, we only see Lolita through the perspective of Humbert. He limits what the reader can know about Lolita. Humbert is another censor. Wow, that was a lot of background info.

So through the course of our discussion of both books, I noticed that the terms we were using to describe censorship and restrictive laws weren’t very precise (I’m guilty too). I paged through Reading Lolita and found this gem of a word, solipsization (Nafisi 37). Now solipsization may not be a dictionary acceptable word (see my previous post about dictionaries!), but solipsism is. Merriam Webster defines solipsism as a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing. Another definition was extreme egocentrism.

Here is an exemplary quote from Reading Lolita in Tehran. Nafisi writes, “They had tried to shape others according to their own dreams and desires, but Nabokov, through his portrayal of Humber, had exposed all solipsists who take over other people’s lives” (Nafisi 33).

I really liked this quote because it proved that solipsism is very self-serving and pejorative because you are forcing your ideals on others and your ideas are the only ideas that exist (that seems extreme). Another topic that comes to mind is Descartes’ I think therefore I am. If many people claim that they “think” what does that mean for a community. What if every person is a radical solipsist? There would be a lot of opposing viewpoints on who is right (I just realized that these questions are coming from a perspective that solipsism is invalid and unfounded). The world would be made up of a lot of angry individuals who would definitely not be able to inflict their power/ideas onto others.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Dictionary

So I’ve decided it’s time to analyze where I’m getting my information about the words I’ve been posting. One main source is dictionaries. Very controversial right? Well actually, yes. I must admit that when I think of dictionaries I usually picture a giant brick of a book that I would rather not approach. Since this blogging experience began, I have realized that online dictionaries come in all shapes and sizes. You have the OED, very traditional, and sites like Urban Dictionary that are more contemporary and offer information on modern slang. For people who share my same stigma towards “The Dictionary” and its inapproachability, sites like Urban Dictionary can be helpful. It’s really great to know that reputable literary blogs like Beyond Words recognize the need for the inclusion of modern words in the dictionary. Take this post for example; words like retweet and zumba are even being included in the dictionary, even though my spell check on word still puts that nasty ret line under them.

In my bit of dictionary research I found a wonderful TED Talks video by Erin McKean, a lexicographer for the online dictionary Wordnik. I recommend watching the video for those extremely interested in the topic of this blog. Here’s a short summary:

· The dictionary comes across as very old and stagnant

· Although the internet seems to have helped, the internet merely speeds up the search process. Online dictionaries still have a Victorian era form. The internet improves search-ability but the con to that is the decrease in serendipity. You are less likely to stumble upon new words because the search process is now extremely direct and easy.

· There is a stigma that words not in the dictionary are “bad words” (McKean thinks that all words that are used should be good word) If a word isn’t in the dictionary, then it’s probably a bad dictionary without a broad enough scope.

· How do you know what a “real” word is… love and usage make words real

· Words are like archeological artifacts, without a source and origin they just become “pretty things to look at.” This shows the importance of links, especially with internet capability.

To wrap up this post… I know the words I select may not be the rarest. I think the words we use in everyday language demand more attention and analyzing so that speakers are aware of the implications behind their word choice.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


For this blog post I’m going to deviate from my usual pick one word and analyze it format. The title of this blog post is the Congolese word for name. A defining part of any person, place, or thing is its name; so, a blog about names is equally important as a blog about a verb or adjective.

Recently my English class finished the book The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (I’ve made several connections to the book in previous post, but here is a summary one last time). The book spans some history of the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially the troublesome post-colonial era. For a little bit of background knowledge… in 1965 a man by the name of Mobutu became president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 1971, through his authoritarian regime, Mobutu tried to rid the Congo of the remnants of colonial rule. He changed the name of the Congo to Zaire to reflect a more pro-African culture. Mobutu also changed the names of many cities and street names to more indigenous names. The main characters in The Poisonwood Bible have trouble adapting to the change because they’ve only experienced the Congo with colonial names.

When a name has been used for so long, and people begin to associate with that name, can a change like Congo to Zaire make the population more authentically African? I think that the actions or events that happen to a person/country define them more than a name. To me names are just used for designation but can acquire meaning over time. Mobutu’s radical shift wasn’t widely supported by the population of the DRC. His attempt at representing African culture was forced and to me the new names seem inauthentic. Colonialism was a defining moment in the Congo’s history and the Congolese didn’t relate to the indigenous names; therefore, the colonial names like Leopoldville did represent the Democratic Republic of Congo more. In cases like the DRC/Zaire, Mobutu acted dictatorially and didn’t take into consideration the population’s reaction. As a ending-side note, I do think that a name change can have a positive effect on a person, especially if they choose the name.

Questions for consideration: What are the reasons for changing a name? How long does it take for a name to “stick”? Can society function without names? What are the implications of parents choosing names for their children instead of kids picking their own names?