Kory Stamper Would Like a Word

Kory Stamper is a lexicographer who worked for nearly two decades at Merriam-Webster dictionary, a world she reveals in the new book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. She will be speaking about the book at her upcoming Town Hall event on Sunday, March 25th. In the meantime, Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley spoke with her about her love of language, the lexical merits of emojis, and the wonderfully weird word that is ‘gardyloo.’

Get tickets for Kory’s upcoming event on 3/25.

 

You’re a lexicographer. For the common person, what is that?
A lexicographer is a writer and editor of dictionaries.

Have you always had an interest in words and writing and reading?
I always loved reading but really in high school I started loving individual words—the way that individual words sounded, or what they meant, or how they could be deployed.

Anytime I told people what I did for a living I was bombarded with questions and assumptions about what the job was and lots of assumptions about what English was that just aren’t true.

I started blogging about language and then decided to write this book as a behind-the-scenes of how dictionaries are made but also to give people some kind of entry point into what English actually is. As a dictionary writer, you often hear from people who think English is dying and they complain that English is falling by the way side, and kids these days and so forth.

Texting and emojis…
Exactly. Soon we’re all going to devolve into gestures and grunts. But the reality is that all of things actually enrich English. English is such a resilient and wild and beautiful language. I wanted to write the book as a love letter to this oft-maligned language that is actually really inventive and beautiful.

What do you hope readers gain from reading your book, then?
The recognition that language is dynamic and dictionaries are dynamic. That neither of those things are, or should be, static. Language changes at a really quick pace and that’s good and right, so dictionaries should also change and that is also right.

I suppose people are often surprised that dictionaries don’t just sit at the library, the giant tome opened up. I’m assuming a lot of people believe that’s still the case. It’s just a thing that existed and it is never edited, reworked, redone. It’s just like the Bible.
The analogy of the Bible is a really good one because it’s not that it doesn’t move or change but for some people the dictionary has this elevated status. It is the arbiter of good English. It tells you exactly where the language is. That’s just not the case. Dictionaries just record the language which is terrifying when people realize what that means. The language is pretty wild. You can’t really stuff it into a box very easily.

Do you get complaints when people think there’s a word that isn’t elevated enough to be placed in the dictionary?
They’ll always find something that they don’t think deserve to be in the language. Dictionary.com just this week announced that they’re trying something new. They’re going to enter some emoji into their dictionary. From a lexical and linguistic standpoint, emoji are used as lexical items. So that makes sense. The response to that has been like Dictionary.com is blowing up the English language. Because people are responding with ‘Those aren’t words.’ ‘That’s not real communication.’ ‘Only kids use those.’ People find just amazing things to complain about whenever a dictionary does anything.

So, personally what is your least favorite word?
In a professional capacity I have no least favorite word.

Off the record.
Lexicographers are people, too. We all have our own likes and dislikes. I cannot stand the word impactful. I understand that is an irrational dislike. I’m completely aware of how irrational that is. I’ve had to revise the entry for impactful, so I’m very aware of how current it is. It’s just a word I don’t like.

What are some of your favorite words?
One word I love because it makes me laugh that there is a word for this and that there’s enough use of it for it to merit entry into the dictionary is the word gardyloo. Its definition is something like “used as a warning cry in Edinburgh when it was customary to throw slop out the upper story window” I love that there’s a word for that.

The specificity!
Yeah! Only in Edinburgh. Only during this time when it was customary. I love that. Etymologists, people who study word histories, think that gardyloo actually comes from French. Which tells you something about not just the time this was used but also that there was a time when Scotland was under French rule. But it’s a ridiculous word! But I love that it’s ridiculous. I love that it has a place in the language.

For more from Kory Stamper come see her on Sunday, March 25th at 6:00pm at Seattle University, presented by Town Hall Seattle. Thanks for listening.

In-Residence Kicks Off!


Every year, Town Hall selects exceptional local artists and scholars for paid residencies where they engage with Town Hall programs and collaborate with our programming team to develop original events for the community.
In a typical season, we hand our residents the literal keys to Town Hall. Because our building is closed for renovations this year, we’re especially grateful to The Cloud Room for offering our Residents keys to their beautiful co-working space on Capitol Hill as we all turn Inside/Out together.  We’re asking this season’s Residents to revel in their curiosity—to engage in their host community, in Town Hall’s programming, in their art and thinking—and to funnel their findings into experiences that we can share together.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, each of our four Inside/Out communities has their own Neighborhood Resident. Within each of their neighborhoods, our Residents will be co-curating a series of hyper-local Town Hall events in close collaboration with their Neighborhood Steering Committee. Our Resident events will take place March through June 2018, and all of the programs will be free to the public to attend.
Our remarkably competitive search was guided by our goal of supporting innovators who may not often see themselves reflected in the arts community, such as people of color and LGBTQ folks.
We’re thrilled to announce feature their first events, happening this month!

Shin Yu Pai, Phinney/Greenwood Resident

Peter Levitt with Shin Yu Pai: Sacred in the Everyday (3/22)

Zen teacher Peter Levitt is known for the warmth, humor, clarity, and depth of his teachings—as well as his many books of prose and poetry. He takes the stage with poet and Resident Shin Yu Pai for a complex and intimate discussion on the intricacies of human relationships and the notion of coming home to ourselves—to who and what we naturally and truly are. Peter shares readings from his most recent poetry, exploring our connection to the natural world and singing the sacred in the everyday.

Erik Molano, Capitol Hill/Central District Resident

Evolving Masculinity: A #MeToo Era Conversation and Workshop (3/23)

Explore revolutions in the culture of masculinity in the #MeToo era—rejecting patterns of dominance, violence, and power and building a clear understanding and respect of boundaries and consent. First, hear from Jordan Giarratano, founder of feminist martial arts dojo Fighting Chance Seattle, who discusses strategies to evolve a masculinity that is empowering, balanced, and founded in integrity. Then relationship coach and facilitator Galen Erickson leads groups of audience members through interactive sharing sessions on the effects of gendered expectations on our personal lives and collective social understanding of what it means to be a man.

Peter DiCampo, U District/Ravenna Resident

Living With Conviction: Sentenced to Debt for Life in WA (3/27)

The purpose of law is to serve our communities by level the playing field and creating a more just society. Documentary photographer Deborah Espinosa believes that the only way to know if a law is serving us is to listen to those most impacted. Living with Conviction: Sentenced to Debt for Life in Washington State is a multi-media and civic engagement project about how the State of Washington sentences people not just to prison, but to a lifetime of debt.

Failure to make monthly payments for “legal financial obligations” that are due in the wake of prison time can result in arrest, and the loss of housing, jobs, and children. Espinosa and a panel of individuals featured in Living in Conviction join us to share their stories of trying to survive and thrive under court-imposed costs, fees, fines, and victim restitution.

Jordan Alam, Columbia & Hillman City Resident

Neve Mazique, Nic Masangkay, and Jordan Alam: How the Body Holds Its Stories (3/31)

How do our bodies retain memory of the events we experience? How can we connect with the emotions and life-altering changes recorded within our physical selves? Local artists Neve Mazique and Nic Masangkay take the stage with Inside/Out Neighborhood Resident Jordan Alam to share original works of prose, movement, and music expressing how personal experiences are held within the body. They present their narratives of life-altering and intensely physical moments—from birth to violence—exploring how these events have impacted these artists physically, and how their bodies still carry changes that impact every encounter with the world. Then on April 2, learn to use your own body’s experiences as creative inspiration in a workshop with Jordan, Neve, and Nic: Telling the Stories of the Body (4/2).

#EducationSoWhite
The Impact of Culture Gaps in our Schools

We’re excited to welcome dynamic and diverse education leaders for one of the most anticipated diversity and education events of our season!

First, TED-Ed Innovative Educators and #EducationSoWhite panelists Kristin Leong and Marcos Silva lead Classrooms in Color (3/14), an interactive workshop about identity and our schools drawing from their own experiences in Washington and Texas public school districts. Leong and Silva share the surprising commonalities between these classroom environments and invite us to explore actionable strategies for equitable restorative justice practices in education—as well as lending us a behind-the-scenes look into how they brought their groundbreaking TED-Ed Innovation Projects to life.

Then the #EducationSoWhite (3/15) panel brings together dedicated and diverse experts from all fields of education and activism to tackle a pervasive issue: 90% of teachers in Washington State are white, even though almost half of our students are kids of color.  We’ll hear perspectives from teachers and students alike, as well as TED-Ed Innovative Educators and founders of student/teacher activist groups and youth anti-racism coalitions. These panelists will share their own experiences and explore strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers of color, as well as ways to foster inclusion (not just tolerance) for LGBTQ/QPOC teachers and students. They’ll lead the discussion of potential ways we can change educational institutions and systems for the better to make them more welcoming to teachers and students from LGBTQ and POC communities.

Join these diverse speakers for an education-insider examination of the impact of culture gaps in our schools separating students and teachers.

Explore Your Brain, Expand Your Mind

There’s no question that Town Hall programming appeals to a thoughtful audience and encourages critical and divergent ways of thinking. But rarely do we produce two events so close together that so fully encompass Town Hall’s penchant for cerebral topics!

Theoretical Physicist Leonard Mlodinow (3/20) joins us with an exploration of “elastic” thinking, a cognitive style which he asserts arose in our ancient ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago and is still at work today. Mlodinow cites the rapid expansion of technology and shifting landscapes of data that confront us with new challenges daily—drawing on breakthroughs in neuroscience and psychology that indicate all the ways in which the human brain is uniquely engineered to adapt to new situations. He reframes our human capacity for comprehension as a gestalt confluence of imagination, idea generation, pattern recognition, mental fluency, divergent thinking, and more—and shares secrets for building models of elastic thinking in our own lives, and the ways we can apply these techniques to succeed both personally and professionally.

Then Michael Gazzaniga (4/3), director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, is joined by KUOW host Bill Radke for an in-depth examination of consciousness and grey matter. They approach the timeless puzzle (one which challenged the ancient Greeks) of how the “stuff” of our brains—the atoms, molecules, chemicals, and cells—interact to create the vivid and various worlds inside our heads. Gazzaniga and Radke present scientific revelations about consciousness and dispute the centuries-old idea that the brain can be reduced to a machine, sharing new research that suggests the brain is actually a confederation of independent modules working together.

Enter the discussion on consciousness, comprehension, and the brain vs. the mind with these two illuminating events exploring the nature—and the stuff—of our thoughts.

Jazz on the Mountaintop—Summit in Seattle

On March 2, four jazz powerhouses gather for the Summit in Seattle—a first-ever performance together in this configuration, with no rehearsal or setlist! They come together, warm up, and then dive into an evening of collective improvisation, collaboration, and musical risk-taking. The event is the brainchild of Global Rhythms 2017-18 Co-Curator Daniel Atkinson, and represents a form of jazz he seldom sees represented in today’s musical landscape. Atkinson sat down for an interview with Town Hall’s copywriter, Alexander Eby, to discuss his vision.


AE: The Summit in Seattle is a pretty unusual event. What makes it so unique?

DA: The fact that it’s unusual is precisely why I put this event together. I envisioned the Summit as a way to get back to the true roots of jazz. The format goes back 100 years—a group of musicians at the top of their game with no setlist, listening to each other’s language and finding their own way to speak and respond to one another. It’s an arrangement that harkens back to the ritualistic traditions that define jazz as an art form.

AE: Can you tell me more about that?

DA: At its core, jazz is about musical risk-taking. Success is defined not by playing what’s written, but by taking those risks—by almost failing and then not. An artist becomes a conduit for the culture rather than a destination. They push themselves and their instrumental skills by understanding their relationship to the other artists. That’s why there’s no setlist. Jazz lives in the moment. Mistakes become opportunities to work out potentially new ideas. I want to give these guys a chance to express themselves and navigate that process together and ultimately have fun!

AE: Why put on a performance like this in Seattle?

DA: People in the Seattle jazz community want to promote equity. The Summit is my way of doing exactly that. I wanted to give these four master musicians of color a chance to collaborate with no restrictions and celebrate an art form with roots in West African and Afro-American music traditions.

AE: Is that what makes this concert a great fit for the Global Rhythms series?

DA: Exactly. The musical forms that define jazz, like syncopation and the blues scale, were introduced and popularized by Black artists in the early 1900’s. The context of jazz has changed over time to become more convenient for conspicuous consumption, but jazz began as a space for Black musical expression. It’s a style that (for a very short time) created spaces where a Black performer could be respected for the merit of their musical skill, not judged for their skin color.

AE: Could you give me an example of one of these spaces?

DA: Jam sessions are a prime example. In 1930’s New York, the jam session was an environment that tested a musician’s mettle. A Black musician could demonstrate his/her prowess, and if a White musician couldn’t answer the call, they would have to sit down and make way for someone who possibly could. Value was placed on the merit of musicianship—and bred a learning process. If you couldn’t match or surpass another musician’s skill one night, you went to the woodshed and came back when you felt ready to try again.

AE: And with four masters onstage at the Summit, improvising and adapting to one another is the name of the game.

DA: That’s right. There are two MacArthur Fellows in this group; they’re at the top of their game.

AE: These musicians come from a variety of backgrounds: jazz, hip-hop, R&B, soul. Do you think they’ll have trouble adapting to each other’s styles?

DA: You know, a lot of people have forgotten that those genres actually take their roots from the same place. Back in the early Jim Crow era, what we know as jazz was called “race music.” Eventually it was changed to “rhythm and blues” to make the music easier for White audiences to conspicuously consume, and finally became known as “rock and roll” when White artists took it over completely.

Jazz, gospel, blues, R&B, and hip-hop, are genres that retained certain elements of that progenitor—of “race music”—which were not transposed to rock and roll. The syncopation, the improvisation, the focus on self-expression and adapting to your fellow musicians instead of cutting and pasting ideas together in the spirit of improvisation to an audience that remains benevolently ignorant. This style has gone through so many identity changes that it’s no longer a Black art form, but ultimately the masters playing at the Summit do share a musical lineage—which begins first as a recognition of where it comes from and its uniquely Afro-American, cultural cache. That’s why it’s so important to me that Black musicians be given a space to express their mastery in an art form that is, at its roots, Black.

AE: Do you have any thoughts to prepare audiences for this show?

DA: This performance will be what it will be. Improvisation, risk—this is jazz at its core. As an audience member, you’re witnessing a space for four masters to collaborate and negotiate their process together in real time. It’s probably one of the only times you’re going to see anything like this—it’s an arrangement that just doesn’t happen very often anymore, as much as I wish it did. But I couldn’t bring the mountain down, so to speak, so I put together the Summit to bring the audience to the mountaintop.


Join us March 2 for this exciting collaboration!

Jonathan Talks to Jonathan

Jonathan Kauffman, a James Beard Award-winning writer, is returning to Seattle. The former restaurant critic at Seattle Weekly, he will be at West Seattle’s Westside School to discuss his new book, Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat on Tuesday, February 27th at 7:30 pm.

Jonathan recently sat down with Jonathan Shipley, Town Hall’s Marketing Manager, to discuss lentil casseroles, vegetarian cults, and the horror of carob.


JS: You lived in Seattle and now live in San Francisco. What’s different between each city’s food cultures?

JK: They’re really similar. There’s more money in San Francisco and so there are more high-end restaurants. The Chinese population is greater here, so there are better and more Chinese restaurants in San Francisco. Seattle’s got better seafood and, since it’s not as expensive as San Francisco, there’s more willingness to experiment in Seattle. They can try new things.

JS: What do you miss about Seattle?

JK: My family and my friends.

JS: What don’t you miss about Seattle?

JK: I like sunlight. I like that I don’t have to take Vitamin D supplements anymore.

JS: What inspired this new book of yours?

JK: I was having a meal in Seattle at The Sunlight Café on Roosevelt. I was being served steamed vegetable with tahini dressing, and whole wheat pastries, and veggie burgers and I was hit with a sudden sense of nostalgia. I grew up in the middle of Indiana. How did I grow up eating this food? How did lentil casseroles and stir fried vegetables with tofu and South African stews get there?

JS: What hippie food is your favorite?

JK: My reset meal is a big wok full of stir fried vegetables and tofu over brown rice.

JS: What hippie food do you detest?

JK: Carob is horrifying.

JS: Who was the most interesting interview subject in your book?

JK: Former members of the Source Family. They were members of a vegetarian cult in the 1960s and 70s under Father Yod. They dressed in white, lived in a mansion, were in a rock band (Ya Ho Wha 13), and earned their money off an organic vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles. They are pretty lovely people and are very positive about their time.

JS: What fact did you uncover in the book that most delights you?

JK: Tempeh [an Indonesian dish made by deep-frying fermented soybeans] was introduced by The Farm, at one time the biggest commune in America. The Farm, still in operation in Tennessee, have made three lasting contributions to the world: tempeh, home births, and radiation detection. I totally love them.


Whether you’re into granola or sprouts, co-ops or quinoa, Town Hall looks forward to hosting Kauffman at the Westside School. Join us!

What is your personal platform?

Claim this coming Inauguration Day as your own. What is your personal platform? What fundamental values support it? What is the most pressing challenge facing your family, or your neighborhood, or city, or state, or planet, over the next four years? What will you advocate, and what will you defend? And most important, what are you going to do?

On Friday Jan. 20, Town Hall will open its doors at 8 a.m. to witness the induction of a new U.S. President. Then, in partnership with The Stranger, from 10:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. a selected group of citizens from across our region will be invited to declare their own platforms in a two-minute (350 word) inaugural address from the Great Hall stage, captured on video.

We will record your address in a simple, one-take video to be published to both the Town Hall and The Stranger websites. To submit your platform for consideration, send an email to info@townhallseattle.org with the subject line “Inauguration.” Include your name, phone number, one to three issues you will address in your platform. Please disclose professional or volunteer affiliations in the areas you plan to address. (This will not disqualify you. We just want to be aware.)

If you are selected, we will be in touch with more details. Your inauguration platform submission is due Tuesday Jan. 17, 9 a.m.

A platform is not a lament for things in the past, it’s the act of declaring a vision of the future. Begin by asking yourself: What are the greatest challenges we will face over the next four years? What are my personal and civic priorities? What, specifically, am I going to do?

Town Hall does not endorse any political position or cause—we endorse people finding their power through information and community. We are a place to deepen your knowledge, or to learn something new. To explore your passions, and to find new things to be passionate about. To connect to existing activism, and to organize new efforts. To press your case, and to respectfully consider someone else’s.

We are here to help you ask and answer the question “What am I going to do?”

Town Hall Past and Future

We’re just six months away from the beginning of Town Hall’s highly-anticipated renovation. As we prepare to revitalize our 100-year-old building, we are inviting our members to join us on February 26 at 2 p.m. for a celebration of this beautiful, unique space and its role in Seattle’s history. David Brewster (Town Hall’s founder), will be joined by Lawrence Kreisman (Historic Seattle), and Clint Pehrson (Town Hall Board of Directors), to tell the story of this place—formerly Seattle Fourth Church of Christian Science—and its transformation from an expression of 20th century religious community into a 21st century home for civic, intellectual, and cultural life.

David Brewster founded Town Hall Seattle, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com, and Folio: The Seattle Antheneaum. He will share the story of how this building became Town Hall’s home and the need he saw for a mid-sized, multi-disciplinary arts and civic center in Seattle.

Lawrence Kreisman has spoken eloquently about Town Hall’s Greek Revival building with its fluted column entrance and terra-cotta sheathing, and he has a particular interest in the showpiece of the sanctuary: the stained and leaded glass windows and dome, created by the Povery Brothers of Portland, Oregon. He will discuss these signature features and place the Povery Brothers’ work in context.

Clint Pehrson has practiced architecture in Seattle since 1980, specializing in facilities for cultural institutions—libraries, churches, civic, and arts organizations. In addition to being a current Town Hall Board member, he was one of the original investors who made it possible to purchase the building and create the Town Hall Seattle we know today.

After the program, you are invited for a behind-the-scenes tour of Town Hall.* In a century-old building, there are many interesting places to explore that you don’t normally see—from the organ loft, to backstage green rooms, and so much more. It is wonderful way to imagine what the renovation will mean for the future of the space and your future experience at Town Hall.

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*Tours on February 26th will be limited. After you reserve your ticket, look for your invitation (sent via email) two weeks before the event to secure your building tour space. We will be pleased to help you RSVP for one of our twice-monthly building tours if space does not allow you to participate in this one.

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