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And Curse Sir Walter Raleigh, He Was Such a Stupid Git

Posted By Alex Belth On February 21, 2012 @ 1:29 pm In 1: Featured,Arts and Culture,Creative Process | Comments Disabled

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Geoff Dyer goes all word nerd in the Times [2] and I love it:

It started with the jacket copy for the British hardback of Richard Holmes’s wonderful “Age of Wonder.” We learn there of the astronomer William Herschel’s “tireless dedication to the stars” (the actual stars, that is, the ones out there in space, before they were superseded — and possibly even outnumbered — by those in the realm of film, pop and sport). This connection between an adjective and the stars made me curious about the extent to which a word can continue to shine after the life has gone out of it. Thereafter I started to notice that “tireless” and “tirelessly” were cropping up all over the place, often in works of considerable literary merit. In Jonathan Coe’s biography of the experimental novelist, for example, I read that B. S. Johnson “worked tirelessly for the trade union movement.” There was nothing particularly wrong with this particular instance, but the cumulative effect of encountering tirelesslys made me — taking my cue from Holmes again — wonder. Like a tired person trying to get to sleep who is kept awake by sounds from the street that he or she has for years scarcely noticed, I found that the word had become suddenly unignorable.

It intruded, if only in a pea-under-a-mattress way, on my enjoyment of two of the best books I read last year. Wade Davis’s “Into the Silence” is a brilliantly thorough narrative of the first attempts to conquer Everest, starting with the climbers who had fought in the First World War and climaxing with the disappearance of Mallory in 1924. It would be churlish when considering such a long book to make too much of the “tireless efforts” of one member of the team on behalf of the Everest project, or the description of another member as “tireless.” But one can, I think, question the accuracy of this shared appellation. I mean, were these people never tired? (Yes, yes, I understand, this is a context in which people are not just tired; they’re depleted beyond the limits of human comprehension — but keep going anyway.)

What words bother you? “Literally” is literally killing me these days because I literally hear people using it literally all the time.


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[2] Geoff Dyer goes all word nerd in the Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/books/review/next-time-try-unflagging.html

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