I was reminded of this sweet old song, To Know Him Is To Love Him, while reading about grammar. No kidding. And the grammarian even referred to this song: I Put a Spell on You. (The Creedence Clearwater Revival version at the end of this post.)
What has music, or magic spells, got to do with grammar?
Once they were all part of grammar.
Roy Peter Clark, who has written a book called The Glamour of Grammar, reminds the New York Times:
At one time in the history of the language “glamour” and “grammar” were the same word… Back in the day, grammar had a much broader meaning. It stood for language knowledge connected to all kinds of learning, including the dark arts.
That connection between language and magic may be clearer in the word “spell.” It denotes both the order of letters to form words and an incantation to show your mystical power and influence. As that great grammarian Screamin’ Jay Hawkins once explained, “I put a spell on you … cause you’re mine.”
(You can hear Screamin’ sing the song here.)
Clark has music on his mind and points out tweets and Facebook updates have one thing in common with good writing: brevity. He says:
As for writing using new technologies, IMHO we need to chill. We ridicule the licence plate brevity of tweets and text messages, but one person’s Facebook update is another’s new genre. Most of the writers I know love short forms. An epitaph is a short form: “To know him was to love him.”
That’s why I was reminded of the song, To Know Him Is To Love Him.
Over to Creedence Clearwater Revival.
A teacher of mine once argued that there were only three ways to become more literate. The most literate people – think of a William F. Buckley Jr. or a Susan Sontag – have these behaviours in common. They write all the time and in different forms; they read widely, deeply and critically; and they talk about reading and writing in special ways. No one will learn Standard English without applying it in the context of making meaning. Not Eat Pray Love. But Read Write Talk.
Talk. That’s what “spell” meant in the olden days – talk, tale or recital – according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Of course, there can be music playing in the background. They had troubadours back then, like our very own Bob Dylan.