Thinking of language on a beautiful, hot summer day.

Languages evolve. That’s a truism, of course. It’s inevitable but some of us like to hold on to some of the rules of grammar, syntax, spelling and composition we learned in school and the new constructions grate a little.

I learned both French and English in school including their different yet sometimes related words, spellings, compositional dictates and tone. Of course, both French and English have evolved but it might be more precise to say  that English actually evolved from French and German. English, it has been said, is the garbage pail of languages. Everything gets thrown in there and very few seem to mind. That said, English has done very well for itself, especially with a helping hand from colonialism.

In English, generally, if one wants to pluralize a word, one simply adds an s to it although there are a number of exceptions. That’s clear with words that end in y. Baby becomes babies, and so on. Army becomes armies. But, hold on, why do the British in general refer to army in the plural, as in: “The army, they marched for days on end.” Now, that’s perverse in my mind. An army is a unit and the word army should always be used in the singular. Now, if more than one army is the subject of interest, then, by all means, use armies. So,  there are many ways of indicating the plural in English, but there is a lot of confusion these days with words like data, media, agenda and  the like. The singular forms of these words, for your edification, are datum, medium and agendum. It’s rare these days in the communications media to hear or read the word media used as a plural noun. It’s consistently used as a singular noun as in: “The media is going to get it with Trump as president.”

Data is the same thing. That famous character on Star Trek named Data should probably have been called Datum. Scientists and science broadcasters should know better. When they report that the data indicates this or that, I must confess that I cringe a little. The data may indicate many things and I’m quite happy about that, but the data ‘it’ does this or that is just wrong. In a recent CBC interview I heard a scientist being interviewed by a well-meaning but slightly inattentive interviewer. He properly referred to a particularly virulent bacterium several times and the interviewer returned with bacteria in reply every time.

Same thing for agenda, which is the plural form of agendum. If you have a meeting you have an agendum, I suppose, if you’re properly organized. You may, however, have hidden agenda, meaning that you may have several preferred outcomes for a discussion you may be involved in leading you to steer decisions in your favour.

However, things aren’t always so simple. Lacuna is the singular of lacunae and algae is the singular of alga.

I know the language is evolving. I’m not tilting at windmills here. Still, there is a part of me that is somewhat nostalgic for the ‘proper’ use of English. There, I said it. Send in the trolls.





 I finally understand poetry: my dance with Matt Rader (with choreography by Denis Dutton).

Enough of politics for a bit. This post is about my mistress, art, and Matt Rader, of course.

One of my favourite poets is Matt Rader. Not only because I know him personally, but because of the evocativeness of his poetry (and his prose) and the stunning imagery with which it teases and challenges me.

I’ve been re-reading his book of poems called Desecrations which he published in 2016. It’s a delightful acid trip of a romp through the brush strokes of words and sentences that eventually come together in his poetic evocations.

I’m a painter. I put paint on canvas, paper or wood sometimes with the intent of producing an image that is recognizable, sometimes I stretch my own imagination, pushing the viewer to see the world in ways that challenge long held pathways of recognition and understanding. But, whatever my intent, I cannot control the viewer’s experience of my work.

In the same way, Rader’s intentions in writing his poems are essentially outside the reader’s remit. The reader must read Rader’s poetry just as he or she might gaze upon the images that are the realm of the visual arts.

I’ve attended a few readings by Matt Rader. They’ve always been a challenge for me. I’d think to myself: “What does he want to say with this poem? Where does his imagery come from? What do his lines, as evocative as they are, mean in relationship to one another?” I think that I might have provoked him occasionally to inwardly give his head a shake with my questions which, I admit, were coloured by decades of teaching sociology. I hadn’t realized that his poems, his words, his lines are akin to strokes of the brush on one of my paintings or pencil marks on one of my drawing. I myself have sometimes bristled when a viewer of my work questioned my use of colour or line or imagery. I often don’t know why I’m drawn to certain subject matter or approach and why I would use acrylic paint or watercolour rather than oil paints, or why, on occasion, printing appeals to me more than simply producing one off works.

Matt Rader paints poems with exquisite brush strokes, modelling and carving design, energy and landscape in much the same way I create a drawing or painting. There is no need to explain things to me anymore, Matt, not the juxtaposition of incongruity, not the process by which you carefully craft images, not the incredible research you undertake to bring historical moments, characters, places and events to a life they could never previously have known. You especially don’t have to explain to me the sources of your choices. I get it. At least I think I do.

Part of my epiphany came from my reading of Denis Dutton’s The ART INSTINCT: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution (2009). Reading Dutton it came to me that I was being too analytical in my assessment of poetry and maybe of art in general. Instead of riding the waves of imagery and luxuriating in the richness of expression, metaphor, simile, and characterization, I was losing myself in my frontal cortex, judging rather than enjoying. Now, reading Matt’s Desecrations again I can simply feel the words as they interweave and congeal into images and sensations, much as I l did in the Orangerie museum in Paris a decade ago surrounded by Claude Monet’s majestic paintings of his beloved Giverny water lilies. Thank you, Matt.