Ban the grunt? Really?

OK, so this is a bit of a departure from my usual material, but this ‘issue’ has only just caught my attention and I can barely believe it’s serious.

I’ll admit that I know very little about, and have very little interest in all things sports. So it probably looks like I’ve been living under a rock to not be aware of the apparently long-held controversy over the ‘grunt’ in tennis. But it seems that the players’ enthusiastic grunts, groans and shrieks are pissing off the fans.

Let us all heave a collective ‘awwww’ for the poor fans.

Sure, the various sounds that come out of these elite sportspeople’s mouths can range from interesting to amusing to annoying. But is it really that much of a nuisance that we want to ban them from expressing something that I dare say is largely a subconscious response to the pressures of the game as they play it?

Have you ever watched a classical musician play? Seen their heads wobble comically, their mouths move in a range of bizarre contortions as they ply their instrument to create beautiful music? Would we ask them to please refrain from this because it detracts from the beauty of their art? So why would we expect tennis players to stop what is most likely coming unbidden from inside them during the competition?

Some believe the players are using these vocalisations to ‘cheat’ or gain an advantage over their opponent. Not knowing a whole lot about the game, I won’t deny this is a possibility. A few months ago I wouldn’t have believed grunting, yelping or shrieking could possibly do anything to help someone while playing sport. I’m the shy, retiring type, and the idea of using my voice as a thing of power had never occurred to me.

But that was before I went through labour, the majority of it without pain relief. I began with deep breathing and progressed over the hours to bellowing with no embarrassment whatsoever. The louder I shouted, the easier the pain was to bear and the more powerful I felt. I don’t expect any special congratulations for doing this. I’m merely making the point that vocalisation can be a useful tool to deal with intense pressure.

So now I get it. Martial artists use vocalisations in their forms to increase their power. Other sportspeople use it in their chosen codes. So why are tennis players targeted? Is it because it is a so-called civilised, British game, so the players should just behave themselves and act like gentlemen/ladies?

And why do the fans think they should be able to tell these athletes how to play the game? They find it annoying. That’s it.

Well, you know what, fans? I find your whinging annoying. If you don’t like the grunt, don’t go to the tennis. Mute your f*&@ing television. Start watching croquet or lawn bowls instead*. Or how about you try playing the game yourself against the best tennis players in the world and show us how easy it is to face that pressure without uttering a sound out of your perfect mouths?

Like I said, I’m not a great sports fan myself. But I can appreciate a good tennis game, and I honestly don’t get what the big deal is about the grunt. Rant over.

*No offence intended to the fine sports of croquet and lawn bowls.

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Why I need to read more Australian books

I’m sorry to admit that I really haven’t been pulling my weight over the years when it comes to supporting Australian authors. It’s not that I’ve actively avoided them, or have any sense of cultural cringe, or think that British or American writers are better. One of my all-time favourite books, Cloudstreet, was written by an Australian author, and will probably go down in history as one of the best books ever written.

I guess it’s partly due to my long-held obsession with Indian literature, in that I’ll almost always buy at least one Indian book every time I go to the bookshop. I also tend to go back again and again to my favourite authors, like Milan Kundera, Louis de Bernieres, Ian McEwan.

My rather random method to selecting books is also to blame. Because I rarely remember when people have recommended a specific book to me, I usually just wander the shelves, randomly select volumes from the shelf, read the blurb and pick out those that sound the most interesting. This has meant I’ve collected an eclectic combination of genres in my bookcase. I’ve rarely regretted a purchase. But it’s also meant that I’ve missed out on a lot of outstanding Australian literature.

There have been a few Australian books I’ve been wanting to check out recently, especially those authors who participated in the same manuscript development program that I did last year, and who have been talented enough to achieve publication. So I decided, on my most recent bookshop visit, to devote my purchase to entirely Australian authors.

And my god, I’ve read some outstanding books over the last month. I began with Favel Parrett’s Beneath the Shallows, moved on to Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, followed by The Ottoman Hotel by Chris Currie, and I’m almost through Bereft by Chris Womersley. I won’t go into the plot of each of them; suffice it to say that each was stunning in its own way. It’s reinforced that we have some fantastic writers in Australia, and we need to support them.

And going on my experience of the last six months, Australian writers need all the support they can get. The publishing industry is in a big hole at the moment, and I don’t know if it’s going to improve anytime soon. Talent alone is no longer enough – you need a book that’s strongly marketable, and even then you need to find a publisher that’s willing to take a risk on you.

I don’t know if I have the talent to get published; I hope I do. I’ll keep trying. But in the meantime I’ll be sure to support our Australian writers as much as I can. Please check out these books. They’re fantastic stories by fantastic authors.

Should apostrophes be phased out?

Apostrophes seem to be the least understood and most frequently stuffed up element of the English language. Possessions, contractions, quotations, plural-possessive… so many rules to remember. When you throw in the contrary its and it’s, it’s (excuse the pun) no wonder that people get confused. And then there’s the people who add an apostrophe into any word ending with an s. But don’t get me started on that.

We all learnt this stuff in primary school, right? Why is it that I got it and thousands didn’t? Is it for the same reason that I still to this day do not know how to calculate a percentage – i.e. I don’t have a mind for maths and science; others aren’t good with English? Or are the rules just overly complicated?

There’s a school of thought that apostrophes should be phased out entirely. They ARE overly complicated, they’re contradictory and their misuse further mangles the meaning of whatever is being communicated.

The intention of the word/phrase should be clear from what’s being said, not from a little crescent-shaped mark placed strategically between two letters.

Imagine how much easier it would be to teach grammar at school without all these extra rules and clauses that cancel each other out? The English language is complicated enough as it is, right?

University lecturers would be grateful for the extra time students spent actually learning how to write well rather than getting bogged down in punctuation.

It actually sounds like a pretty good idea, in theory. And language isn’t a static thing – it’s developing all the time. Why not make it more accessible for all?

But if you ask me, we’d be selling ourselves short. Why dumb down a language that, when used properly, can be as intricate and beautiful as it can be a simple form of communication? A famous writer, I can’t remember which, once said that there’s nothing in this world more beautiful than a correctly used semi-colon. And someone else said there’s nothing so over-used in university papers.

But if we start by getting rid of apostrophes, what next? Do we ban semi-colons too, because so few uni students know how to use them correctly? And should we then forget about commas because they so often hang randomly and unnecessarily in the middle of sentences? And how about full stops while we’re at it? Maybe if we got rid of all punctuation, then no one would struggle with writing again!

then all our sentences would look like this wed never have to pause for breath people would have to work out the meaning by themselves because thered be no visual indication of a contraction or proper nouns or speech itd be liberating

Or liber8ing, even.

I’m not against change, really I’m not. But as a professional writer, I’m a bit of a purist. I appreciate the English language for all its intricacies and its complications, and I enjoy strumming it as a musician would a guitar.

Sounds selfish, I guess. I suppose it is. But to continue with my music metaphor, it just doesn’t make any sense to me to turn an operatic score into a nursery rhyme.

Words I enjoy

I get a lot of pleasure out of words. Lame, I know. I’m a self-confessed word nerd. Ask my workmates – I got wildly excited when my 4th edition Macquarie Thesaurus arrived, a prudent, yet (for me) luxurious pre-end-of-financial-year-we’ve-still-got-some-money-left-in-the-budget-so-we-might-as-well-spend-it purchase.

So, I really love words. Here are some of the words I particularly enjoy. This list is not exhaustive:

  • continuity
  • concatenate (OK, so I only found this word when learning how to use Microsoft Excel and I’ve never actually used it in a sentence, but I like it nevertheless)
  • vacillate
  • subversive
  • albeit
  • absurd
  • retort
  • riposte
  • intensity (should always be followed up with the words ‘in 10 cities’)
  • lexicon
  • utilitarian
  • investigative
  • juxtapose
  • fiery
  • prodigious
  • surreptitious
  • divulge
  • trepidation
  • pallor
  • devious
  • antagonistic
  • yearn
  • turbulent
  • detestable
  • caress
  • evident
  • linger
  • pursue
  • resonate
  • anticipation (always makes me think of the Rocky Horror Picture Show – antici……….pation)
  • ruminate
  • exultant
  • shrewd
  • languid
  • veritable
There are many more, but these are just a few of the words that make me happy. Small things.