The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I love lexicography!

I've rather been away from the world of lexicography recently, with most of my work coming in more general ELT materials - either writing, researching or editing on various different projects. So when the chance came up recently to work on a dictionary project, I jumped at it, despite having an already rather full schedule. And I'm so glad I did, it's been just fantastic rediscovering my first love! All those words ... pure, unadulterated words!

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy writing and it's great to have the variety and challenge of working on so many different projects, but after the messiness of writing with its unclear, changing or sometimes non-existent briefs, with different people and interests pulling in different directions, over-optimistic and shrinking deadlines, and wildly varying fees and rates, it's lovely to be back to the reassuring certainties and rules of lexicography! 

There's nothing quite like a 50+ page style guide to set you off on the right track, then come those nice, straightforward lists of words to compile along with how long each list should take and a solid hourly rate. It's so nice to know where you stand, working away and ticking each word off as you go.

Then there's the joy of analysing all those corpus lines, teasing out sense distinctions, watching patterns appear, jotting down lists of collocates, and picking out that perfect example. There's the variation as you work your way through a particularly tricky word with lots of senses all apparently overlapping and refusing to untangle themselves, then you get a run of easy-peasy single sensers that you whizz through ... tick, tick, tick!

Way back when I was doing my MA at Birmingham University and contemplating a career in dictionaries, one of my tutors advised me that lexicography was no job for grown-ups. And I have to concede that the 'drudgery' of compiling day in day out, year on year is probably not something I'd go back to. But it certainly provides a very welcome break from starring at a blank screen worrying about where to start with a unit or perhaps worse still, scrolling through pages of material and realizing it really doesn't work and you're going to have to start again! So for the moment, for a few hours a week at least ...

I Lexicography


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Laptop lap ban

Since my desktop PC died a couple of months ago, after many years of trusty service, I've been working solely on my laptop until I can afford a new desktop. As a long-term RSI sufferer, I'm very aware of the pitfalls of long-term laptop use; a screen that’s too close and at the wrong height, a keyboard that you inevitably use in the wrong position and that horrible mouse pad which requires awkward, repetitive finger movements. So when I'm at my desk, I use a separate keyboard and graphics tablet (instead of a mouse) and I have my laptop screen propped up so that it’s at eye level and a good arm's length away. So far, so good.

Recently though, my RSI has flared up particularly badly – mainly the result of all the stress and tension caused by the noise from the building work next door and added to that the less-than-ergonomic setup in the office space I'm renting to escape the noise (not my usual comfy chair, desk not quite the right height, fewer opportunities to get up and wander around taking my usual mini breaks). Anyway, my body’s heightened sensitivity to all things ergonomic has made me realise that despite all my efforts to set up my workspace as healthily as possible, I seem to have got into the habit of unplugging everything and taking my laptop downstairs to the living room in the evening. There I sit in a squishy armchair with it on my lap, checking Facebook and e-mail, doing a bit of online shopping or planning my next holiday. Normally, I'd say that's fine if it's just the odd 10 or 20 minutes here and there, but at the moment, I find my mouse hand is cramping and getting painful after just a couple of minutes. Those fiddly little trackpads really are evil!

So I've had to impose a ban on using my laptop away from my desk. And boy is it tough! Unlike many people, I haven't gone down the route of smart phones and tablets, I don't even use my mobile very much, I quite enjoy the idea of being completely off-line when I'm not at my desk. So it was quite a shock to realise how addicted I'd become to my evening armchair surfing. There's always been a point in the evening, usually somewhere around nine o'clock, where I get a craving for chocolate, which I usually satisfy with a square or two of Dairy Milk. And it seems that my mid-evening internet fix has become equally ingrained.

The ban’s been in place now for a couple of weeks and I am mostly sticking to it. It'll be interesting to see, if I keep it up long enough, whether I can kick the habit entirely.

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