The link below is to an article that takes a look at grammar and our changing society.
In April, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary did something unusual. For the previous 20 years, they had issued quarterly updates to announce new words and meanings selected for inclusion. These updates have typically been made available in March, June, September and December.
In the late spring, however, and again in July, the dictionary’s editors released special updates, citing a need to document the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the English language.
Although the editors have documented many coronavirus-related linguistic shifts, some of their observations are surprising. They claim, for example, that the pandemic has produced only one truly new word: the acronym COVID-19.
Most of the coronavirus-related changes that the editors have noted have to do with older, more obscure words and phrases being catapulted into common usage, such as reproduction number and social distancing. They’ve also documented the creation of new word blends based on previously existing vocabulary.
The dictionary of record
The Oxford English Dictionary aspires to be the most extensive and complete record of the language and its history.
In 1884, parts of the first edition were released. It wasn’t completed until 1928. Over the ensuing years, additional volumes of new words were published to supplement the first edition, and these were integrated into a second edition that appeared in 1989. This is the version you’ll find in most libraries. A digital release, on CD-ROM, followed in 1992.
In March 2000, the dictionary launched an online version. For this new edition, the editors have been revising definitions dating from the first edition that are, in many cases, over a century old. Due to its size, this third edition will not appear in printed form, and these revisions may not be completed until 2034.
At the same time, the editors continue to document the language as it grows, changes and evolves. The quarterly updates provide a list of new words and revisions. The September update, for example, includes “craftivist” and “Cookie Monster.”
Something old, something new
The special, coronavirus-related updates give us a glimpse into how language can quickly change in the face of unprecedented social and economic disruption. For example, one of the effects of the pandemic is that it’s brought previously obscure medical terms to the forefront of everyday speech.
Traditionally, dictionary editors include scientific and technical terms only if they achieve some degree of currency outside of their disciplines. This is the case for the names of drugs, since there are many thousands of these. For example, you’ll see Ritalin and Oxycontin in the dictionary, but you won’t see Aripiprazole.
However, the pandemic has seen at least two drug names jump into public discourse.
Hydroxychloroquine, a malaria treatment touted by some as a magic bullet against the virus, was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in July, although the drug’s name had appeared in print as early as 1951.
Another newly famous drug is dexamethasone, a corticosteroid that has reduced the COVID-19 death rate. It appeared in print as early as 1958 and was included in the dictionary’s second edition. In the July update, the editors provided a quotation illustrating the drug’s current use to combat the coronavirus.
The language of quarantining
Terms related to social isolation existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but they’ve become much more common in 2020.
Some terms have seen a shift in meaning. Originally, sheltering in place referred to seeking safety during a circumscribed event, like a tornado or an active shooter attack. It’s now being used to refer to a prolonged period of social isolation.
Similarly, elbow bump has evolved from a gesture akin to a high-five, as documented in 1981, to its present form: a safe way to greet another person.
Some regional differences are also emerging in COVID-19 language. Self-isolate has been the preferred term in British English, whereas self-quarantine is more commonly employed in the U.S. “Rona” or “the rona” as slang for coronavirus has been observed in the U.S. and Australia, but the dictionary editors haven’t documented wide enough usage to warrant its inclusion.
On the watch list
A perennial issue for lexicographers is deciding whether or not a term has enough staying power to be enshrined in the dictionary. The COVID-19 pandemic has produced its fair share of new terms that are blends of other words, and many of these are on the editors’ watch list. They include “maskne,” an acne outbreak caused by facial coverings; “zoombombing,” which is when strangers intrude on video conferences; and “quarantini,” a cocktail consumed in isolation.
Other new blends include “covidiot,” for someone who ignores public safety recommendations; “doomscrolling,” which happens when you skim anxiety-inducing pandemic-related stories on your smartphone; and the German term “hamsterkauf,” or panic buying. Whether such terms will be in common usage after the pandemic is anyone’s guess.
‘COVID’ or ‘Covid’?
And what of COVID-19 itself?
According to the dictionary’s editors, it first appeared in a Feb. 11 World Health Organization situation report as shorthand for “coronavirus disease 2019.”
But should it be written as COVID-19 or as Covid-19? The dictionary’s editors report regional differences for this term as well.
“COVID” is dominant in the U.S., Canada and Australia, while “Covid” is more common in the U.K., Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa.
Because the Oxford English Dictionary is edited and published in England, British forms take precedence: in the online dictionary, it appears under the headword Covid-19.
Earlier health crises also spawned new acronyms and terminology. Nearly 40 years ago, the terms AIDS and HIV entered the language. However, they didn’t appear in the dictionary until the second edition was published at the end of the 1980s.
By releasing updates online, the editors can track language changes as they occur in near real time, and the arbiters of the English language no longer have to play catch-up.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the changing culture of book clubs.
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The link below is to an article reporting on changes to Kindle Unlimited Payments from tomorrow.
In 2014, the Department of Economics at Macquarie University began a three-year study to examine the responses of Australian authors, publishers and readers to global changes in the current publishing environment.
Last week we released the first stage of the study, based on a survey of more than 1,000 Australian book authors. Our findings show that while book authors are innovators in their professional practices, the financial rewards for initiative and experimentation are unevenly distributed.
The average income of Australian authors is A$12,900. Although a fifth of authors write as their full-time occupation, only 5% earn the average annual income from their creative practice (which we calculate using ABS data as A$61,485 for the 2013-14 financial year). Most authors rely on other paid work and their partner’s income to make ends meet.
Compounding this is the recent fall in the average selling price of trade books. According to Beth Drumm, Sales and Marketing Manager in the Asia/Pacific division of Phoenix International Publications, the standard price of small-format publications has fallen from A$24.99 – A$29.99 to A$19.99 within the last five years. Highly discounted books sold by discount department stores (such as Kmart, Target and Big W) also impact on an author’s income.
Nearly a fifth of all authors earned over A$101,000 in the period of the survey, and a small proportion of authors (nearly 3%) earned more than A$101,000 from their creative practice alone.
An author’s capacity to earn income from other paid work is boosted by high levels of education. They also possess technical skills (the ability to compose, write and edit) that lead to work that does not produce creative output.
One of the greatest limiting factors for authors is finding time to write. Table 1 (below) shows the proportion of authors for whom insufficient income prevents them from writing further. Domestic responsibilities and the need to earn income from other sources affect more than half of authors.
Another pressure on trade authors’ time is their increased role in promoting their books. With the rise of social and online media as important channels for promotion, more than half of all trade authors spend more time promoting their work than they did five years ago – and the rise of social media hasn’t negated the importance of in-person bookstore appearances.
Although we examine how changes are affecting all types of authors, in the remainder of this article we focus on the challenges facing literary fiction authors and poets in particular (while we use “literary” fiction, we are aware of the debates around the use of the term).
Literary fiction authors
Changes in the industry are increasing opportunities for authors to publish their work using cost-effective digital technologies and small print runs. Even so, nearly a third of these authors report being worse off financially compared to five years ago.
One factor for this may be the shift of a considerable amount of literary publishing in Australia from larger publishers to small, independent presses – very small presses may have more constraints on the size of advances, if any, they can offer authors, for example.
The top-earning quarter of literary authors earn on average A$9,000 a year from their writing. Literary fiction authors are the most likely to report that insufficient income from their writing prevents them from spending more time on writing (70%). Although the top-earning quarter of literary authors earn on average A$85,000, the majority of their income comes from other types of paid work.
The situation for poets is even more challenging. Nearly three quarters of Australian poets have changed the way they publish, distribute or promote their work. Poets are particularly innovative in finding new avenues for paid work and are also experimenting with self-publishing – but the average income earned from their creative practice by those in Australia’s top-earning quartile of poets is only A$4,900, the lowest average across any of the different types of authors.
Over half of poets reported no discernible change in their financial position over the past five years. Even though they are innovating and experimenting in their professional practices as well as stylistically (see, for example, the work of self-published performance and multimedia poet Candy Royalle) those changes are not leading to increased incomes.
At the launch of our research findings, Australian poet and author Steven Herrick encouraged poets to write in other genres to increase their incomes.
Herrick self-published a series of cycling memoirs set in Europe through Amazon, starting as an experiment. He quickly established a readership in the UK and he is about to release his fifth title in the series.
The market for literary fiction and poetry in Australia
At the moment, the market size for most Australian-authored literary works is modest. Most literary titles – apart from those by high-profile authors – have print runs of 2,000–4,000 copies.
Print runs for single volumes of poetry for adult readerships are even lower – often between 300 and 1,000 copies. In keeping with a centuries-old tradition, authors are creating their own publishing opportunities such as Kill Your Darlings, a literary journal founded in 2010, taking advantage of digital technology to keep costs down.
The actual size of the market for literary works in Australia, particularly for Australian-authored work, is unclear. There are no reliable statistics about the sales of literary books as a proportion of total trade sales, but during 2015 one member of our research team estimated that literary books comprise roughly 5% of trade sales, and less than half of these comprise Australian-authored literary works (onshore trade sales are worth approximately A$900 million).
A related question then arises as to whether it is possible to grow the size of readerships for literary works, and if so, how could that be done? Literary publishers around Australia are endeavouring to increase the size of their readerships but there are no short-cuts.
That’s because the pleasures and rewards of reading literary works are an acquired taste which develops over time. Further, Jim Demetriou, Sales and Marketing Director of Allen and Unwin, commented:
With literature each one of the author’s books is a totally different “animal” to the previous book, so you have to sell the concept and the idea behind each individual title. It’s generally a slower build unless it’s a big-name author who people recognise and understand.
The way forward
There are no easy answers but the survey findings – and the initial discussion around them – suggest that Australian authors are engaging with changes in the industry and exploring new opportunities.
One feature of the Australian book industry is that authors, publishers and booksellers share a collaborative commitment to its cultural and commercial success. That’s something the new Book Council can bank on, with confidence.
For further information about the research, visit here.
The link below is to an article that reports on the changing reading habits of children, from traditional to digital material.
I am currently in the process of changing the domain name for this site from https://atthebookshelf.wordpress.com to simply http://atthebookshelf.com. I have already registered the name and I am now just waiting for the change over to occur. The previous name should simply redirect to the new domain once the process is completed.
The link below is to an article that looks at how to change the time on a Kindle ebook reader.
The link below is to another article commenting on the future of the traditional bookstore. Do they have a future? Question really is in my opinion, are they prepared to look at changing their approach and practices to embrace mail order possibilities, the digital age, etc?