I had a wonderful time visiting England for a usage guide conference and touring with an eye on the history of English.
If you’re following along with the audio podcast, open the Backward Versus Backwards page to see a Quick and Dirty Tip on this topic.
Bridging the Unbridgeable Conference
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking at a small conference at Cambridge in the UK that was entirely about usage guides. It was called Bridging the Unbridgeable. I spoke about what it’s like to answer language questions on the Internet and the changes I’ve seen over the eight years that I’ve been Grammar Girl. Two of the biggest changes I’ve seen are the move to shorter articles on the Web and even more so the increasing importance of images.
I can’t participate on Instagram or Pinterest without an image, and I’m finding it’s also important to have images when I post on Tumblr and Facebook, but I worry about things seeming overly simple when I make images. For example, I recently made an image to go with my post about the difference between the words amount and number, but the image presents the difference in a more simplistic way than the article, and I know many people won’t click through to the article, so I worry about that and try to think of ways to cram subtlety into images.
The conference was fascinating—there were presentations from young linguists who are doing studies about which peeves people hate more, famous linguists I’ve wanted to meet for years such as Geoffrey Pullum and David Crystal, writers of popular usage books, and the author of the BBC News Style Guide. (All the conference abstracts)
The moment we got to Heathrow airport, I was charmed by all the language differences. Instead of reading “exit,” the signs read “way out”; on the trains, the announcer tells you to “alight” instead of “get off” or “exit”; and in the grocery store, Frosted Flakes were called Frosties.
My Trip to Cambridge and London: An English Language-Lover on Tour
To prepare for a bit of tourism after the conference, I bought David and Hilary Crystal’s book Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist's Guide to Britain, which was great for helping me narrow down the things we’d see since we had only about two days in London. If you ever take a trip to the UK, I recommend the book.
Our first stop was the British museum and because of the Crystals’ book, I knew that I wanted to immediately head to Room 41, which has European artifacts from about 300 to 1100 AD—the time from the beginnings of Old English up to the Norman Invasion, which I’ll talk about more in a minute. In that room, they used to have a metal circle—maybe a coin or an ornament—that according to Crystal has the oldest sentence ever found written in Old English. It’s written in runes instead of the letters we use today. Archeologists believe it is from between 450 and 480 AD.
We looked for it for about an hour and finally asked, and unfortunately, it’s no longer on display, but you can see a page about it from the British Museum website and a video of David Crystal at the British Museum talking about the piece when it was still on display. (British Museum page about the Undley bracteate, David Crystal’s Undley Bracteate video, Wikipedia link)
We weren’t bored searching though. The room had plenty of other amazing artifacts. Writing was a big deal in the monasteries, I have pictures of alphabet tiles made in a monastery
and wax seals from a monastery that would have been used on legal documents.
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