Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Let's talk about... yeah, what?

Does gender influence language? You know the stereotypes: men discussing cars and women discussing fashion, and women knowing a dozen or more names for different hues of the same colour while men would just call them all 'blue' (experience has shown me that such stereotypes are very inaccurate - except maybe the colour thing, although there certainly are exceptions to that, too). Now and then, studies attempt to find out just how (or if) gender influences our conversations and the ways we use language. I just came across this study which claims that some words are better known to men than to women, and some words are better known to women than to men. A vocabulary test was used to find out what such words are, and they did indeed find words that show a recognition gap between genders.

First, the 12 words with the largest difference in favour of men (between brackets: % of men who know the word, % of women who know the word):
codec (88, 48)
solenoid (87, 54)
golem (89, 56)
mach (93, 63)
humvee (88, 58)
claymore (87, 58)
scimitar (86, 58)
kevlar (93, 65)
paladin (93, 66)
bolshevism (85, 60)
biped (86, 61)
dreadnought (90, 66)

And the 12 words with the largest difference in favour of women (again, between brackets: % of men who know the word, % of women who know the word):
taffeta (48, 87)
tresses (61, 93)
bottlebrush (58, 89)
flouncy (55, 86)
mascarpone (60, 90)
decoupage (56, 86)
progesterone (63, 92)
wisteria (61, 89)
taupe (66, 93)
flouncing (67, 94)
peony (70, 96)
bodice (71, 96)

The vocabulary test is available at the site, but I was too lazy to take it and just looked at the two lists and counted the words I recognised. Even though I'm not a native speaker of English, it looks like I fall into the typical pattern, knowing more words in the women's word list (9) than on the men's (6). What's your result?

However, I can't help but wonder how our vocabularies are influenced by other things besides gender, such as culture, education, experience and, especially, personal interests. They must play a significant role – if I weren't interested in history and swords, would I have recognised claymore, scimitar or paladin?

(Since I couldn't think of anything else to add as an illustration, I'll post a picture of a claymore sword from Wikipedia. :D)

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A book by its cover

Yes yes, we're not supposed to judge. Yet we do it all the time. When you're browsing in a bookstore, or a library, or in Amazon or wherever you like to acquire your reading material from, how do you decide which books you pick up? Unless I'm looking for a particular book or a book by a particular author, my choices are influenced by a book's title and its cover.

So what gets your interest in a cover? Do you prefer colourful illustrations, simplistic design or just text? People or objects?

That's not an easy question to answer. I keep picking up the same books in a bookstore because the cover just has that something about it, something that speaks to me, and it's impossible to explain what that is. Sometimes I'm drawn to simple designs, sometimes I'm excited by elaborate ones. I'm drawn to books that use a font that looks somehow 'ancient', books that are designed to look like old tomes (I know it's just an illusion, but whenever I see something like that, my hand reaches out for it). To illustrate, Abercrombie's 'The Blade Itself' (left). I also adore Carlos Ruiz Zafón's 'The Shadow of the Wind' (right), which was a gift from a dear friend and a book I like to keep on my bedside table just because it looks lovely.

There are certain types of covers that are an instant turn-off, although these, too, are difficult to describe. Usually these are covers I'd call somehow 'generic' – there's nothing in them to tell them apart from countless others. Sometimes I pick up a book in a bookstore because the title is interesting, but the illustration on the cover makes me put the book back before I've even bothered to turn it around and glance at the description. I'm aware that I may have missed many good books by doing this... but then, no matter how much you'd want to, you can't check them all out, can you?

When it comes to your favourite book(s), the cover doesn't matter – it's the story you love – but a wonderful coincidence is that some of my favourite covers are, in fact, covers of my favourite books! Manda Scott's incomparable Boudica series has many great covers. Here's one image of all the four books (left) – I love the design, it is simple yet powerful. Here, on the right, is an alternative cover for the first book in the series. This is the one that originally drew my attention to these books. Just look at the cover - how could you resist that?

There are also editions that have covers with wonderful illustrations by Stephen Youll – unfortunately, I was able to find only one image where the illustration is used in the cover. Here it is:

Once – but only once – it has happened that I started collecting a series of books, then saw a different edition with a different cover art and decided I needed those rather than what I already had (although those were lovely, too). This was Rosalind Miles' Guenevere Trilogy, which has these gorgeous paintings by John William Waterhouse (perhaps my favourite of the Pre-Raphaelite painters) as cover art (left). Love them!

And I should mention – I'm very happy with the cover of Elite: Tales from the Frontier anthology that features one of my stories. The cover is by Helen Murphy, and although I've posted it before, it deserves to be shown again:

As for buying books solely on the basis of their covers... my mother used to do that. I read mostly in English, but my mother didn't speak a word of English, yet she persistently bought books for me. She had no idea what the titles meant, so she always chose one with 'a pretty cover'. They made for very... surprising presents. Once she bought me a poetry collection. She never looked inside the book, and was disappointed to learn that what she had thought would be an interesting story, was in fact a collection of poems. I was delighted, however, and it turned out to be a perfect present!

Since this is just a small glance at the covers I like, I've created a new board in Pinterest where I intend to collect beautiful book covers. You're welcome to come over and see what I've found so far. And I'd love to hear about your favourite covers, so feel free to drop some names in the comments!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Bookish problems

I came across this image on one of the book and reading related Facebook sites that I've liked (The Bluestocking Review). I guess no comments are needed, I know there are those among you who can relate. ;)

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Blog improvement

I've received e-mail from the readers of my blog regarding the comments feature here. Apparently, it was not possible to comment anonymously. I tried to figure out how to fix this, and although I'm really absolutely terrible with all the technical stuff, I think I may have found a solution (namely, ticking a box that says "allow anonymous comments" :P). Now, I hope it works. :)

Saturday, 7 June 2014

A double review

Lindt Creation Crème Brûlée chocolate
The milk chocolate in this is very smooth, very sweet. The filling is creamy and silky, almost like custard. It has tiny bits of crispy caramelised sugar in it. The chocolate pieces are fairly large, which is, naturally, a good thing. This is so tasty it's very hard to say anything not so good about it... if I absolutely had to, I might say that the combination of sweet chocolate, sweet filling and sweet caramelised sugar is almost (but only almost!) overwhelming in its sweetness. But no, I won't say that it's so sweet one piece is enough to satisfy a craving. If you can say such a thing, you've never had a true craving. ;)

Magnum Silver Marc de Champagne ice-cream bar
I don't often eat Magnum ice-cream bars, but this sounded so special/strange that it just had to be tested! The ice-cream has a shiny silver coating, which looks very interesting but doesn't have any particular taste. Underneath is a thick milk chocolate cover that cracks irregularly as you bite into it. The ice-cream itself is pale and very creamy with thin streaks of champagne sauce. The champagne flavour is noticeable (I don't think I could have named it, though, had I not known what it was) yet subtle. The flavours are well balanced so that none of them is overbearing, and it's a very pleasant combination. Overall, very delicious, but not so special I would have to buy it again.