Thursday, September 22, 2011


Sometimes you are so overcome by a single word that you begin scheming and plotting ways to use it in a sentence or story, possibly a review essay, where it will for a time have seemed as though it belonged to you.

You cannot, of course, own words, but they for their part come dangerously close to owning you, finding their way into your secret places so that you dream about them on the same levels of fantasy where your uninhibited wishes appear to you in dramas where you are a participant.

It is not a safe or comfortable world, this place of everything-goes fantasy; in it you have had relationships with persons you did not know you had "those" feelings about.  You have also used words in what seemed as though they were ordinary circumstances, making a deposit at the bank, for instance, or retrieving your shirts from the laundry.  But you were snapped out of the dream by the anomalous things you said in such mundane circumstances.

You, who would never think to introduce the subject of hydrocarbons into your conversations with friends or your classroom lectures, were using that word with someone you had no idea you wished to sleep with.  Perhaps this was sufficient condition for saying hydrocarbons to her, the overriding knowledge that protected you and, of course, her.

Words have the power to wound, to flatter, to explain, to inspire; they are helpful in getting you out of uncomfortable or unpleasant situations, of opening the door to pleasing ones.

As your tastes turn in such areas as choices of friends and acquaintances, reading matter, writing subject matter, food, and music, they run to and away from certain words.  If there is a single word you dislike more than any other, it is "that," which you will take such pains to avoid using as to provoke awkward, clunky-sounding sentences, which send you scrambling some sentences back, the better to remove the need to use that, even though you have substituted a trope with more words than you might have used had you remained with that.

Sometimes, when you plunk down an -ly adverb on the table, as though it were some ante in a literary poker game, you wince, once again retracing your steps in order to find your way around -ly.

Words such as unencumbered or prestidigitation rattle about in your brain pan the way you imagine a Tourette's victim would begin ticking and twitching except that for you these are exciting, tingling moments, primal, thus visceral.  They are in many ways the equivalent of finding a particular woman attractive.

Vociferous.  What a grand word to roll off your tongue in the course of a lecture.  Serendipitous.  Pleonasm. Chthonic.  Words that you imagine destroying the circuitry on your spell-checker.

At times, you are amazed to discover such words emerging in early drafts, particularly of stories or drafts of your novel-in-progress.  Sesquipedalian.  Ontology.  Quintessential.  Words that cause you to giggle at the thought of what an editor would do, were she or he to see them in something you'd in all earnestness submitted as final copy.

Words are tools.  You have not the carpenter's nor draftsperson's nor even gardener's affinity or respect for tools as such but you respect them in abstract.  You might possibly leave a rake out overnight, where the evening mists and humidity might do it mischief.  You have in fact played merry hell with a pair of battery cable jumpers, and a much prized hammer, the gift of your late sister, has not retained its youthful patina anymore than you have.

You have not, to your memory, left words out all night, nor failed to tidy up after cutting a clutter of chatty dialogue.

Interesting anomaly regarding words:  It is one thing to tell someone in no uncertain terms you love her, a deed that might even secure you some attention, but, effects of words to the contrary not withstanding, saying nothing at all, but listening attentively has its merits for effectiveness.

1 comment:

Storm Dweller said...

I also become consumed and enamored with words. It was part of the reason I had to drop my journalism class. The professor told me that I needed to dumb my writing down, and in the attitude of Marie Antoinette my response was, "Let them use a dictionary."