Monday, February 18, 2013

Vocabulary

Vocabulary is a tricky business, in its way a metaphor encompassing capitalism and free market.  In other ways, vocabulary is the process of importing words, phrases, and concepts from other languages, building them into your own potential for one of the most outstanding, defining things about you.

There are words used by other writers that have impressed you to the point where you find yourself trying to use them, not only in your stories and essays but in your spoken speech.  There is also the matter of your belief that you should speak as you write, write as you speak, and edit both with a blend of good sense and pragmatism.

As you pursue your meditations on vocabulary, you've compiled a list of words which, on the surface, appear as handy, useful tools but which, on closer consideration, need to be set aside because they do not approximate in meaning what they say.  Words of this nature such as very, somewhat, perhaps, and interesting come to mind, all of them, you regret to say, causing your sentences to grow longer when, in fact, they are already long.

Another such word is enough, which appears in your written and spoken uses with the same kind of regularity credit card bills appear in your mail box.  As a practical matter, you know enough about credit cards to know you must pay the balances each month rather than allow a lingering balance to add more cost to next month's bill.  Enough is one of the many relative terms you try to catch as you review each piece written with the intention of keeping it.  Enough breakfast, for one small instance is a different matter from enough money or enough interest, and come to think of it, isn't interest close to being a weasel word?  That's interesting.  What does that tell you?  Something is "of interest."  Big deal.

At one point, when you were still pre-teen, and you'd been skipped an entire year in the schooling  progression, you took the mistaken belief that vocabulary played a major role.  Big mistake.  In a real sense, you equated learning with vocabulary, leaving out the important middle step of connecting the meanings and nuances into concepts.

You could fool some people with vocabulary, but not everyone.  Later, you were in close proximity to individuals from wealthier backgrounds than your own, and you saw some of those individuals trying in an analogous way to manipulate others with references to their resources.  You also hit a brick wall in which you not only did not get the scholarship you'd applied for (because of your most uneven grade average), you were told in so many words that you should consider other options than college.

Once again, for a last, brief fling, you took refuge in vocabulary, trying to finesse your way into college with words instead of essaying college by using words.  You needed some time in your own Twelve-Step Program, where you acknowledged that you had no power over your life because of your dependence on vocabulary.

A special and meaningful way out of your vocabulary dilemma was to immerse yourself in poetry, through as many of its forms and potentials as you were able to accommodate.  Although you marveled at and felt resonant frequency from such diverse poets as Hopkins and Moore and Dylan Thomas and  Yeats, there was the pull of the cadences, pauses, and music of sentences, their words striking you with images of young birds, scurrying across a field for flight.  And so it has been:  trying to remove the leaden words, the empty words, the words that mean the birds need to scurry a few more yards before that stark, crisp moment when they are yearning to be aloft, then lifting.

With the right array of vocabulary, you can be as mischievous as your favorite bird, the mocking bird, pushing images up, onto the page.

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