Saturday, August 25, 2012

If "Dreadful Swotters" Are No Longer in Your Vocabulary, They Maybe Should Come Back There

Thing is, "swotter" sounds like a non-standard pronunciation of "sweater". An employer who will sweat his workers for little pay. Or would back in the days when that was the main complaint among the working classes. But of course a worker who worked harder than the rest was a "swotter" too. He gave his employer an excuse for "swotting" the others even more than he coud otherwise have done.

Applied to school, a "swotter" is of course the guy or gal who works hard under the teachers orders, also in an ambitious way.

Nothing wrong with ambition - unless it is at once very unrealistic and very likely to make things worse for the other guys in the same boat.

(Feeling a twinge of guilt for my ambition to be a writer and composer recognised and paid as such, while other homeless are being humiliated in order to discourage me, but then I was made homeless - left with one alternative which also would have implied me ruining my ambitions therein myself - while I had a home and was working on it.)

In class, a "swotter" is a guy working hard at typical school subjects. Not sports or singing, but things like history. Now, I was mistaken for one, when I was really a bookworm who needed hardly any work at all, because I simply absorbed the subjects.

I was handed a handmade diploma meaning basically "swotter n° 1 of the class". A part from being ugly on it - and I was, since I was fat up to starting keeping Lenten fast at my Catholic conversion and it showed on my skin - I was sweating on the picture in a kind of agony as if the subjects were threatening to me. They were not. It was as if the guy drawing this in coloured pencils knew the English word "swotter". The Swedish word for it means basically "study horse" or "exam cramming horse" - and I was still sweating on that portrait. I kept the picture and laughed at it, and avoided swotting in the future too.

But I did not avoid reading at all, and have not started doing so either. I was a bookworm and still am (except in so far as sleep privations draw down my receptivity and calm and make reading less easy: I read LotR ten times over before I was homeless, including once while already writing on Antimodernism the MSN Group, but since I became homeless I have not reread it once, obviously due to lack of calm). And that is quite something else. It may be a reproach from en employer's side - like dreamer - but hardly ever from friends' or comrades' or family's side. And yes, my kid sister very rightly diagnosed me as a Leseratte (German for bookworm), decades ago.

Which means I am very angry if Enid Blyton's Julian and Dick reproach a "terrible swotter" and the editor now adresses same reproach (at least nominally) to "terrible bookworms" through their mouths. A bookworm is someone who enjoys reading. Having your eyes over a book you enjoy does not stop you from enjoying summer as you can bring it along out into the nature. The context is pretty obviously about someone poking over school books absolutely not to be destroyed and therefore missing the fine day.

Julian and Dick may not have been aware that bookworms exist, people who enjoy reading. But if they had been aware of it, they would hardly have been so unfair as to reproach them with the same words as are used to ambitious school subject workers. I was myself very unambitious till getting extremely poor and my ambition now is getting out of celibacy and poverty without overstraining my working capacity. It is hardly possible I could be considered a swotter except by people knowing me as ill as my classmates did. But it is not possible I should not be considered a bookworm either.

I think tax money is ill spent on paying teachers to keep in class young people so uneager for the subjects on curriculum as to be able to consider bookworms as swotters. But I think it is well spent on librarians in so far as they hand out books to bookworms - and to swotters too. It is not the librarians' fault if someone else indirectly forces some of their clients to use the library, it is absolutely not them directly forcing anyone to anything - except to respect the bookworms and the others who know how to keep quiet. But teachers are directly involved in checking about absense and in encouraging swotting. Not because school subjects require that approach to interested pupils, but because evil laws, including the pseudo-conservative RAB Butler Act in England and similar acts in other countries, force uninterested children and teens to be pupils against their sometimes even better inclinations.

It is good that real collaborators with that evil system, such as for their own future welfare in this world restrain their real tastes in order to read what is required and on top of that what is considered meritorious and in the process enjoy not the reading but their own importance as mature and foreseeing and responsible swotters should at least hear that word pronounced. Of course, even swotters are better than snitches.

I fear school teachers have been teaching or even forcing the young English speakers to use "bookworm" as an euphemism for swotter. Words used euphemistically for other and less noble concepts do not ennoble them or the human relations of people talking in reality about them. They are only dragged down to that level. I dread the day when "bookworm" shall really have become the new word for "swotter". I hate the kind of paedagogics by which teachers have encouraged the process. But if reeditors of Blyton books start going down that road, the good fight may be lost. Unless they are opposed. On this item as on others where they would change words.

What would an opposition to these editors entail? Readers preferring second hand copies to newer copies (and chiding their wives like Aladdin about the lamp if they should make an exchange same price and gaining a nicer cover), pirate editors photocopying the older exemplars (it can be done without leaving readers with just a heap of really loose papers embarrassingly stapled in one corner) and a market for them, and, somewhat more legally, circulating commented lists of words to be struck through and replaced with older words, and for each word a list of page references. That could conceivably just possibly make the Blyton editor see some sense.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Library (where else) of
Melun, Astrolabe
Feast Day of St Louis IX
25 of August 2012

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