In which I get Cranky about language

Elseweb, someone said the following in a discussion on language, and because it would not be appropriate for me to make this comment there, as it’s not exactly the topic, I’m going to do it here:
Chaucer was as incomprehensible to [Shakespeare’s contemporaries] as he is to us, but we can still comprehend Shakespeare with a little effort, and the literature since then with correspondingly less effort.
I see this all the time, and it’s basically nonsense.
Chaucer wrote in Middle English, which is pretty weird to our modern eyes, but not actually all that hard to understand. If you learn how to pronounce the vowels, it’s pretty easy to read, and not too hard to understand.  Here’s a version with translations below the original Middle English lines:


1         Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
When April with its sweet-smelling showers
2         The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
Has pierced the drought of March to the root,
3         And bathed every veyne in swich licour
And bathed every vein (of the plants) in such liquid
4         Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
By which power the flower is created;
5         Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
When the West Wind also with its sweet breath,
6         Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
In every wood and field has breathed life into
7         The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
The tender new leaves, and the young sun
8         Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
Has run half its course in Aries,

There are some odd words, such as the pronoun hir, which has been replaced with their in modern English, but overall, the general shape of the language isn’t that hard for us to figure out, even 627 years later.  We teach it to 12th graders, for goodness’ sake–it’s not rocket science (though, honestly, we teach that, too, in some classes)!

Shakespeare, by contrast, wrote in Modern English.  Here’s Shakespeare, completely as he wrote the lines:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Perfectly understandable.  Sure, in some of Ol’ Billy’s words there are grammatical constructions that are no longer done, and the pronunciation of words has changed, certainly, leading many of Shakespeare’s jokes to fall flat today if care isn’t taken.  I remember one teacher who told us that the weird construction in the final couplet of Sonnet 116 (above) was an example of an intentional “slant rhyme,” but I later discovered that in Shakespeare’s day, the words “loved” and “proved” would have rhymed perfectly.  Those pronunciation shifts also kill some of the imagery in this sonnet–for example, there’s a pun on “hours” and “oars” in the sonnet above, which links back to the imagery of a ship in line 7.  I’ll concede that understanding just what Shakespeare is saying may not be so easy–for example, this sonnet is often read as a romantic poem, but many scholars argue otherwise. So, sure, hard to analyze–but hard to understand as language, it isn’t.
This idea in our culture that Shakespeare is some kind of bizarre language we can only understand if we work at it is part of why his plays have gone from the everyday, for-all-people entertainments they were in his lifetime to supposed highbrow-only work today.
Every time I see some idiot waxing poetic about Romeo and Juliet being High Art, I want to smack them–fully half the first scene is a series of penis jokes, for crissakes!  And it includes rape jokes!
Anyway, I’ll do another post someday soon about the pronunciation changes, but for now, I just want to say this:  Shakespeare is not hard to understand, and if you have any part in fomenting the myth that it is, stop it.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Elite: Dangerous

I’m a space opera junkie.  Give me starships, interstellar governments, and complex politics any day of the week.  So when I discovered that Elite: Dangerous now had a Mac client, and that my computer is more than capable of running it, I snapped it up.  After all, a game that is basically a simulation of being a starship pilot, where you can do pretty much whatever you want, is right up my alley.

In ED, there are three major governments, and they each have their strengths and weaknesses.  There’s not a ton of story in the game, at least not that players are railroaded down–much of the plotline happens in the background, and you can get yourself involved as much or as little as you like.

The strength of ED is that, literally, you can do anything you want–and can afford to do.  It’s a simulation, so you need to work your way up from the basic ship you get in the beginning.  I’ve earned enough to get a few ships, but my crowning glory was my Type 6 freighter.  It’s got a ton of cargo space, which I’ve been using to build up credits by trading rare goods across the galaxy.

In a lot of games, you can have a freighter that handles like a fighter and is well-nigh indestructible.  Not so in ED.  Now, on the one hand, I love this–My fighter flies like a demon and has amazingly powerful guns, while my freighter handles like a pregnant yak, and her guns are not terribly useful in a fight.  In short, she’s a freighter, not a fighter.  On the other hand, I hate that, because it leads to things like what happened to me last night.

I was running the Lave-Coquim trade route.  I’d filled my hold with all sorts of valuable, rare cargo, and I was in the Coquim system, 20 light-seconds from the station on which I was going to sell it all for a nice profit, which would go towards buying a better fighter down the road.

And that’s when an NPC, computer-controlled pirate interdicted me (by which I mean he pulled me out of “FTL”) and destroyed me.  In 15 seconds.

That difficulty curve drives me insane.

I had enough in my accounts to replace the ship, but the cargo, and the 1.5 hours of work it took to get all that cargo?  Gone, along with several million credits of profit.  Which, OK, it’s a video game, who cares?  But still.  Games affect us, or we wouldn’t play them, right? The thrill of doing something right in a game is real, but so is the dejection when the game nails you to the wall.

But right now, I can’t say if I’ll start the trade route over, or jump in a fighter and go kill some bad guys for bounties. And a little stress relief.


What Impostor Syndrome Looks Like From The Inside

Impostor Syndrome, the belief that one is a fraud, sometimes hits a lot of writers.  Most of the writers I know, both professional and not, suffer from it from time to time.  I feel lately like I live there.  It makes writing very difficult–how can you focus on the work when you’re convinced you’re terrible at it?

I suffer from it both as a teacher and as a writer, but mostly as a writer.  And when I’m in the depths of Writer Impostor mode, these are the things that go through my mind  (In case it’s not obvious, I need to point out that every single one of these is BS and I know it):

  • I’m a hack.  My book sucks.
  • I’m not analytical enough.  All my friends are waxing eloquent about that book’s structure and plot and character, and I’m sitting here with my Literature degree thinking only “I liked it; it was a good story.”  How can I be a good writer if I don’t analyze everything I read like that?
  • Writing is hard.  It wouldn’t be this hard if I was any good.
  • Fuck (insert writer whose career I’m jealous of that day)
  • I’m good at grammar but I suck at everything else.
  • I am never going to be published.  What’s the point of bothering to put my soul into this if it isn’t going to go anywhere?
  • It would be easier to just stop and be a reader.
  • My ideas are all trite and unoriginal.
  • Taking a dump would be more productive than this writing session.
  • VP lied to me to get my money. The instructors all laughed about how bad I am.
  • All my VP classmates think I suck.  They just tell me it’s good because they like me.
  • They don’t even really like me.
  • I’m wasting time I could be doing something more fun chasing a dream that will never come true.  I’m a fool.

Angry Robot Result

Spoiler: They said no.

Got my rejection today.  Here it is, in its form-letter glory:

Thank you for sending us “The Widening Gyre: The Remembrance War Book 1”. The Robots really appreciated the chance to read it, and thank you for taking the time to submit it to this year’s Open Door. Unfortunately, this book is not for us.

The “unfortunately” is kind of amusing. Unfortunate for me, definitely.  But for them? *shrug* That’s just how rejections are worded. I mean, what else are they gonna say?  “You suck”?  I admit I’d have preferred a more personal “Hey, here’s what I didn’t like,” but the truth is, they’ve got over a thousand of these to get through; that’s not going to happen.  It doesn’t happen with agents, either, most of the time.  The one personal I’ve gotten was pretty clear the problem was the agent’s particular likes and dislikes, and I can’t fault her for that, but it’s also useless to me as a writer except to say “don’t submit anything similar to her in future.”

Ah well.  The book is back out to agents already, and I’m working on, depending on the day and how I feel, two different books.  I have a new project that has really grabbed my attention, so I’m mostly focusing on that, as well as finally finishing a crit I’ve been promising for ages.

Anyway, the day job is technically over for the day, but I have about two days of grading I need to finish by tomorrow, so I’m going to go do that.  Maybe I’ll get some writing done tonight, but maybe not–I’m pretty wiped out, intellectually.