I love being able to check referral logs and Technorati, because they introduce me to things I might not otherwise find. The latest is Unhappy Medium, the blog of a woman who had been anonymous but is now using her name, Elizabeth Little, because “I no longer have a real job, which means that I no longer fear for my gainful employment. In fact, as a full-time freelancer, I have come to accept the fact that I will never again have truly gainful employment.” (These words describe my situation as well.) She has a book coming out in November, Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic, which sounds like a lot of fun:
Biting the Wax Tadpole is my take on comparative linguistics, a fresh, irreverent look at the languages of the world. …[I]f you’re the sort of person who has always believed yourself to be incapable of learning a new language – or even if you’ve just been bored to tears by all the soul-killing grammar classes you’ve suffered though – then you’re the reason I wrote this book. It’s designed to be as accessible and enjoyable as possible, without resorting to the sort of pandering condescension that you find in so many guides to style. Instead of warning against grammatical errors, I revel in them. The way I see it, there’s far more pleasure to be had in fucking up than in grim perfection.
I also wrote the book because if there’s anything in this world that I truly love, it’s language… Although I’m well aware that you probably don’t want to spend your free time rifling through Yoruba grammars, that’s not enough to keep me from standing outside your window with the equivalent of Peter Gabriel on a boombox, doing my best to convince you that language is far more exciting and entertaining than your teachers ever made it out to be.
You tell ’em! And she got the book contract because the publisher saw this essay, “Ablative, Allative, Adessive, Obsessive,” in the NY Times (which I had missed when it came out because I tend to skip the Travel section); it’s a very enjoyable read:
I don’t exactly have the usual collection of literary classics and popular nonfiction. Instead, I have language books. A lot of language books. Several shelves of them, in fact, and they’re not exactly useful titles like French in 30 Seconds or Spanish on the Go. My books are more along the lines of Beginning Dutch, An Introduction to Sanskrit, Practical Mongolian…
The fact of the matter is that foreign-language primers and grammars are my version of a bodice-ripping pirate romance: a guilty pleasure I’d love to hide but can’t quite make go away. I relish conjugation tables and declension charts. I thrill to morphophonemics, glottochronology, perfectiveness.
It can cause problems on dates (“It was only recently that I was in the company of a rather attractive young man and had the bright idea to pull a hefty comparative grammar out of my bag to illustrate the exciting complexities of Finno-Ugric locatives”), but on the whole, it’s a pretty good obsession to have. (But then, I would think that, wouldn’t I?)