Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Portmanteau Words, Mentors, and Tintinabulation

Mark Twain was your mentor before you had the merest notion of what a mentor is. He came your way at about the time you'd come to terms with the word "advice." If the advice came from an older person you believed, you took it. 

If the advice came from someone on your negative side of consideration, you immediately looked for a way to undercut it--as, indeed, Twain did. Your weapons, exaggeration, and reductio ad absurdum. As, you discovered--or perhaps already knew--Twain did.

At one point, deep into your teens, the thought occurred to you that Twain was still alive--he lasted until 1910--during your father's early years. You couldn't help thinking how nice it would have been had your father seen Twain, a distinct possibility since each lived in New York at the time. The closest proximity you could wrestle from your father was the equivalent of, Anything you want to be possible is, along with several things that just aren't. Another memorable phrase you still have from your father is, "What are you, some kind of wise guy?"

Your first takeaway from Mark Twain was, "The right word--not it's second cousin."  After spending considerable time carrying pocket notebooks with you to put keepable things in, you finally had something to put into one.  Emboldened by this, you soon came upon Twain's observations about the difference between lightning and the lightning bug, and you were underway with a mentor.

Some considerable years later, at a family dinner, where you were seated next to your father, he asked you how things were going at work. You told him you'd been promoted that day to the position of editor in chief, given a substantial raise, and told to buy a car of some greater substance than your Sahara tan VW Beetle. "What are you," he said, "some kind of wise guy?" He then patted your arm and you understood that once again, he'd been your mentor long before you'd had the slightest notion of what a mentor is.

Before that family dinner and its takeaway from your father (as well as a tin of your mother's Toll House cookies), you'd had reason to spend some dictionary and thesaurus time with the word and concept of mentor. This was because a person you'd come to respect and love had shown you the handwritten first draft of her first novel and given you a printed book that included her first published novella, Turnip's Blood. Of course the title gave you cause to spell out the condition you understood to be irony; it also articulated yet another way to undercut such obstacles as convention and its second cousin, conventional wisdom. 

You also understood that this author, Rachel Maddux, was your mentor. In the bargain, her husband, King, was to work his way into your conscience as a role model for a number of protagonists you'd create over the years to come, including one you are struggling to capture on this fine February morning.

Your collection of pocket notebooks has flourished over the years. At this writing, you could lay hands upon fifty or sixty of them, filled with your spidery scrawl, and at least twenty fresh ones, awaiting the kiss of your pen. One of these notebooks contains a list of forty words (at last count) you are at some pains to avoid using because their general, in-context, use provides more blur than focus. 

*Those words are attached to this essay as a footnote.

On the other hand, there are words, so-called portmanteau words because they carry more than one meaning and are often usable as a noun or a verb, you have sought in other notebooks, the better to expand your general vocabulary. While it is pretty impressive for its inclusivity and range, it also contains a number of words the various persons who have edited your work have directly or suggestively deleted. An example of such a word is tantivy, which means and suggests a jolly, bouncing sort of enthusiasm, and which causes such individuals as your literary agent to say Jesus Christ--with an exclamation, thus not in admiration or approbation, but rather dismay bordering on outrage. Another such word, as eager to escape its restraints as a puppy is to dig under a fence, then into freedom, is tintinnabulation.  (The mere act of writing it causes you to hear, off in the background, Jesus Christ!)

The word urging itself upon you today is indeed noun and verb; it is the delightful, useful, visual word "register."  Think about it. You can register to vote. An idea or sensation inflicts itself upon you to the point where you can sense it register. And, come to think of it, register, if used properly, can convey an entire range of tones, colors, or meanings.

You are going to sit back now, to let all this register upon you.

*FN  Don't forget the promised footnote

The Terrible 40

✔︎ any form of the verb: to be*
✔︎ into and onto when in and on are better
✔︎ Sentences that begin or end with It 
✔︎ a bit         ✔︎may
✔︎ almost ✔︎ might
✔︎ am* ✔︎ must
✔︎ and ✔︎ now
✔︎ are* ✔︎ occasionally ✔︎ be* ✔︎ shall
✔︎ been* ✔︎ should
✔︎ being* ✔︎ so
✔︎ can ✔︎ some
✔︎ could ✔︎ somewhat
✔︎ do ✔︎ still
✔︎ even ✔︎ suddenly. all of a sudden
✔︎ had ✔︎ that
✔︎ has ✔︎ then
✔︎ have ✔︎ was*  
✔︎ is* ✔︎ were
✔︎ just ✔︎ very
✔︎ with
✔︎ would

These words add little to your writing and they force you to use the passive voice.

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