24 May

Wikipedia describes “semantic drift” as the evolution of word usage usually to the point that modern meaning is radically different from original usage. Every word has connotations which can be altered over time.

Some have asked why I didn’t attempt to write “Elsie” as a novel.  There are numerous reasons but one reason is that I loved the feel of reading her word choices.

I could have explained to readers that Elsie had a delightfully positive outlook.  For me it was more significant to let you discover that through her choice of words. She did occasionally write of school troubles, mischievous students and disgusting gossip. But she chose to use words like “ramble by the creek”, “splendid Santa Fe concert”, and “Jack and I tramped in the wilds… glorious.”  When I was a child she was already a widow living in a very small bungalow and working as a librarian. I suppose the word I heard her say most often that impressed me then was “glorious.”  Life was just exciting for her and quite often she described things as “glorious.”  I noticed in the book many of her early letters and diary entries used the word “splendid.” It was only after she met Jack that her favorite word became “glorious.” At age 29 love brought her joy and made life “glorious.”

I absolutely love hearing from readers.  One recently wrote: “My favorite word in it (the book) so far, ‘cunning.’ My grandmother always used that word to mean attractive & small, not evasive.” Sure enough, when I looked, one dictionary defines cunning as “Marked by or given to artful subtlety and deceptiveness.” So I sat down with my book after  that note from that reader looking for words that are not in use today or have had a semantic drift from how Elsie used it.

Here are some examples:

“I won’t write decently…but you should see my blackboard penmanship!” Since almost everyone today uses a keyboard  to write “penmanship “is a dying art.

Elsie wrote of studying the “school laws.” Teachers help me out here. Do they ever speak now of “school laws?”

“I thought ‘white slavery’ with horror” Today we would refer to human trafficking.

“I gave some of the cake in oiled paper.”  I imagine she was referring to a sort of waxed paper.

“In order to be sensible…”  Somehow I think sensible has disappeared from our word usage – and lives.

“Some of my children are dear…others are common” Oops, surely not used today in our politically correct world.

“We’ll have to take a KODAK next time.”  (Photograph.)

“One of my little boys has just ridden off in chaps. He looks so cunning!”

“If they send me a wire.”

“I feel unutterably more glad.”

“I seem to be getting very husky.”  No woman today would ever refer to herself as husky.

We ate at a rough “oil-cloth” covered table beside the gay, howling ‘Pike’ and ordered hamburg steak.”

“Little Howard Turtley called on me.”  Too bad we seem to have lost the art of “calling” on people. We text.

“Struggles at school with wayward children.”

“Worn to a frazzle.”  I imagine today she would say “stressed-out. “ I feel sure stress existed for teachers back 100 years ago but that word did not appear to be in Elsie’s vocabulary.

“Talked most seriously to Campbell and Carl, ‘moral suasion’ when I thought of the strap.”

“Mr. Twitty took us out in machine.”  “Lovely machine trip.”

“Dick Connors asked me to go see the ‘pictures.’”

“Listened to Victrola.”

“Rushed home and donned a middy and went on a picnic.”  This is perhaps my favorite “semantic drift.”

“Reveled in Dorothy.”

“Mrs. Gold is a tonic.”

“The apparatus was lost in the boat.” This was in reference to an early movie camera.

“Myra wasn’t very trim.”  I added a footnote in the book to that one because I knew she was saying Myra’s diaper was dirty! This is my second favorite semantic drift Elsie used.

“They are in slang what we call ‘mutts!’”  This was not in reference to a dog but some men.

“We made a compact.”

“I also got a bungalow apron housedress.”

“Took a bus for Elsinore. During a puncture delay…”

So my treasured readers do you have a favorite semantic drift that you liked in the book?  It would be ‘glorious’ to hear from some of you. I am elated to have 214 reviews. Thanks, readers, for input.



2 Responses to “ELSIE & SEMANTIC DRIFT”

  1. Candy Adams Terry April 9, 2014 at 11:12 pm #

    I finished reading ELSIE several weeks ago, but the term that I remember being most intrigued with was “machine.” I never knew that vehicles were commonly called “machines.” Actually, I was quite relieved when I found something in context that helped me know for sure that I was understanding the word correctly!

    I love the wonderful possibilities that are open to us as we use words to express just what we mean! Changes in use or meaning over time make the consideration (whether we’re writing or reading) all the more intriguing!

    Many times lately, I have found myself thinking of some setting or some small event in a certain setting, especially those by Oak Creek, as “glorious”! I have wondered again and again if I might have adopted Elsie’s description and/or way of thinking, which would surely NOT be a bad thing! Or did I think and speak like that before? I’m not sure if I’ll ever know. ELSIE has had a glorious effect on me, in any case, I’d say!

    • Barbara Anne Waite April 10, 2014 at 7:31 am #

      Thanks Candy for reading down through the “tidbits.” This was one of my favorites to write but you are first to comment. Elsie’s use of words made the book fun for me. So good to hear she had a “glorious” effect on you. When I think of all the hard things she experienced after this I never heard her refer to the hard times, WW1, the great depression, WW2, miscarriages, death of Jack,loss of her parents and dear friends. Elsie chose to see life as glorious and that means even more to me now that I have looked at her life through her diaries and letters. We choose what we focus on, “glorious” is a wonderful choice.

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