10.04.2006

"Forced to Write"

You know how it is to have many irons in the fire. I know you do. One way I keep various interests percolating (if they have to do with language use) is with Google Alerts, which allows you to create search-bots for an array of single terms or, more interestingly, collocational phrases. Of course, Google's bots only scour online news sources, but what's nice about that is that you get current and various uses of your string.



I won't list all of my search strings, as I have a ton of them via different free services like Google's, but one of the most productive ones lately has been "forced to write." Today at wcnbc.com, for instance, we see this in print
I get more work done when I’m alone.

When I’m forced to write at the office, I wear the same sound-dampening headphones as the guys waving in passenger jets on the tarmac at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. I’m serious. I wear them. And people still come up to me and tap on my headphones to get my attention. I work with terribly friendly people. They’re much nicer than I.

and at grandprix.com there is this use of the phrase
So, despite the jet-lag (or perhaps because of it), I fished out some of the hotel's headed writing paper and fired off a letter to my mum. It was the first time I'd written to her since I'd been forced to write letters home as a prep school boarder ...

I first learned to do searches for discrete collocational phrases back in grad school when learning about language change, as archives like lexisnexis.com allow you to find the year, month, even the day when a catchy new phrase gets introduced and widely circulated in the news media. (Get into lexisnexis through your library gateway, as it's a pricey service; UIUC's gateway is here.)

Many instances of the phrase "forced to write" describe what might be termed a naturally-occurring exigence that does the forcing in the context of writing used in a figurative sense—being in the red leads one to "be forced to write off a particular debt," or we find an author talking about being "forced to write off their option deposits or joint-venture investments."

While the bot hauls these in, I generally scan over them to get to the good stuff, instances where epistolary or expository writing (almost never "creative") is made mandatory.

In this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for instance, we find the phrase in this context:
He, too, was shot down in Vietnam and spent almost seven years as a prisoner of war. He, too, was tortured and forced to write letters saying he was treated well.

In the instances I'm even more interested in, since way in the background I'm passively reassembling a piece on the uses of writing as punishment, teachers and school administrators do the forcing.



Directed rss and search bots like Google Alerts are like having a dozen frenetic, tireless research assistants, which then frees up the real research team for ... Found Friday!

Coming soon to a blog near you!

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