Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Language of the Craft

I've always loved language: loved learning bits and pieces of new languages, loved figuring out my native tongue. I've taken Spanish, Italian and Chinese in a school setting, and tried to teach myself French and Welsh. I have degrees in English and writing. I love language.

But what I especially love is what I call regional dialect -- what people call things and how they pronounce them. I'm from Connecticut, born and raised in the same house for the first eighteen years of my life. It wasn't until I was in college that I met people who called soda "pop" and sneakers "tennis shoes". As it is, I married a Massachusetts-Vermont-Michigan hybrid who calls a water fountain a "water bubbler" and chocolate sprinkles "jimmies". (But at least he still calls it soft-serve!)

Until I started crafting, I didn't realize that there were other ways to pronounce words I thought were pretty clear to say. I'm still not entirely sure what the difference between a hank and a skein is. One of my pet peeves is people calling yarn wool -- up until I posted this on a Ravelry thread, I had no idea yarn was called wool in other countries! To me, wool is a specific fiber. I can go into a store and say "I'm looking for the wool" and the associate can lead me straight to it, Merino to Icelandic and all the kinds in between. How does one differentiate this in another country? Obviously "I'm looking for the acrylic" is still pretty easy to say and understand, but do you have to say "wool wool" when looking for sheep product? Fascinating! (And I have no idea what the answer is.)

If you crochet, you probably already know that the terminology is a bit different across the pond. This article takes a quick and interesting look at the differences: for example, what I would call a slip stitch is a single crochet in UK notation. There do tend to be standard symbols for charts, but I don't tend to work from charts, so knowing your terminology is helpful!

However, possibly my favorite crafting term is worsted. Worsted. Oh, worsted. I think it's no mistake you have the word "worst" tucked away in there.

First, an interesting fact, and entirely not the reason I have a love-hate relationship with the word: did you know that worsted can refer to the way a yarn is spun? Had no idea! I read about it in one of Clara Parkes' books.

When I think of worsted yarn, I think of worsted-weight: that nice, kinda middle-of-the-road stuff that knits up pretty quick without having to use broomsticks for needles. It's probably my favorite yarn weight, and I know I'm not alone. In fact, plenty of people I know go on and on about their woostered-weight yarn.

Wait a second, hold the phone. Woostered? Well, if you moved the r and added a few extra vowels, I guess I can see how you get that. There's actually a linguistics term for this switching of syllables: metathesis. If you've ever heard a little kid call spaghetti "psketti", or the infamous "nuculer", that's metathesis.

It makes me wonder. Is woostered an example of metathesis, or is it accent-based? After all, there's Worcester Massachusetts, which to me should be pronounced "wor-chest-er" but is actually pronounced "wooster". I have no idea why. (Then again, I lived in Kuh-neh-ti-cut!) Is woostered a regional thing?

It's times like this I think about what a great paper topic this would have made. :)

(EDIT: I spelled Worcester with an "h". Oops!)

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