Words & Phrases (March 2017)


Something all writers love is words, and we delight in finding the right turn of phrase to express ourselves. As a reader, I also enjoy discovering new words and concepts whether it’s from a published work, an indie short story, a fanfiction, something I heard on a TV show, or a word discovered in a news article. This is a list of some of the things I’ve learnt over the past months.
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Watsonian vs Doylist: an Overview

picture of an open book with an illustration of a pipe, and an actual pipe

(image composite from images found at pixabay x,x)

Some cultural artefacts become so well known that they can be used as shorthand to express ideas and concepts. For example, movies like “Terminator” and “Robocop” made the idea of cyborgs, any being with both organic and mechanical parts, more visible to the general public.

So it is with Sherlock Holmes, widely read and studied in-depth for many years. Media analysis has adopted the terms Watsonian and Doylist, referring to the Sherlock Holmes fiction written by Arthur Conan Doyle. The ideas behind the two terms are useful when discussing any media artefact and TV Tropes mentions that the terms may have originated or at least been popularized by the Lois McMaster Bujold fan mailing list. 

Continue reading Watsonian vs Doylist: an Overview

Word of the Day: Perquisite

Do you ever discover a word you’ve only heard, or read, in a particular form is actually a shortened version of a longer word? “Pram” has replaced “perambulator” for example, and a “brassiere” is almost always referred to as a “bra”.

I was playing a lovely online game at Sporcle recently that gave clues as the short forms of words and with contextual clues where necessary. At first I was merrily typing the full word answers in. Some seemed obvious, such as “vet (military)” being veteran, while a few took a moment’s thought. One, however I could not answer.

The clue was “perk”. I knew the word, and that it often came in the form as “a company car is a perk of the job”. But until then I had no idea it was a short form of a longer word. The answer was perquisite.

The online etymology dictionary – a wonderful online reference tool – describes perquisite as dating from the mid-15th century, meaning “property acquired other than by inheritance”, with further details here. The short form, perk, dates from 1869. The alternate “perk” a short form of “percolate” is more recent, dating from 1934.

So I learnt something, which is always rewarding, and it was via playing a game. A perk of the entertainment if you will.

What is Meta

Meta is a term you’ve probably come across in jargon such as “metadata”. You’ll hear it quite often in relation to media and fandom. Meta refers to the self-referential nature of something.

For example, a metafiction might be the “play within a play” featured in Hamlet. It might be about a character who knows they are in fictional universe. It might a story about a storyteller, or a movie about filmmaking. It might invoke the conventions of narrative such as in the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett in which “one-in-a-million chances crop up nine times out of ten”, because, as the characters themselves understand, that is how stories work.

Meta is often used as a blanket term within fandom to denote critical analysis and discussions about media artefacts. This is not the same as a review such as “The cinematography is good but the plot is poor”. Instead you will find readings such as “Sherlock’s Coat: The Importance of Costumes” focussing on the BBC’s Sherlock or “Comparing BBC’s Sherlock to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes: Misogyny and Subtextal Homoeroticism” or “Reading Ron Weasley as Bisexual” or “Magic: Representations of Wicca and Neo-Paganism in Popular Media”.

These types of readings are common in academia, where, for example, feminist readings or Marxist readings of a text are used to critically examine a book, film, or television series. Fandom however has picked up on the tools used professionally and uses them to start their own discussions about subjects of interest.

Meta in this sense can also denote metafiction as discussed above, such as a map of Hogwarts (Harry Potter), or works intended to assist fans to create other fanworks such as a character list giving key facts as a ready reference, or a primer on writing about emergency medical treatments to give realism to fanfiction.

In fannish terms then “meta” can refer to a variety of non-fiction texts as well as texts incorporating the self-referential nature of storytelling. For many, it’s an interesting and important part of fandom. Fandom is about more than just reading a book or watching a film or show or listening to a particular band. It’s about a sense of community with other fans, but it is also about engaging with the work which can include discussing it, analysing it, and creating transformative works inspired by the original work.

Meta is about taking a deeper look at a work, comparing and contrasting, reading it from different angles. It recognises that media is important, that it informs us and our world, and as such, deserves to be studied as well as enjoyed.

Resources/Further Reading

The Wikipedia Metafiction page has more examples of the types of metafiction while the TV Tropes Million To One Chance page gives examples of that trope, including that of the Pratchett usage mentioned here.
None of the fandom specific meta titles given here are real but were created to give a feel for the types of meta created. It is considered poor etiquette to link to specific fannish endeavours outside of fandom without prior permission. However searching for “meta” and your favourite fandom will probably bring up some results if you’re interested in reading some examples, though as with all work, professional or fan-created, quality varies considerably.