Friday, May 31, 2013

Words, Words, Words!

Not only is this a line from Hamlet, a one act play by David Ives, and a comedy routine with subsequent album by a fellow named Bo Burham (I heaven't seen nor heart the Ives nor the Burham works, so I can't vouch for or against them), but it's also a proper invocation for the many words Shakespeare added and or retooled within the English language (his restyling of weird being one of my favorites) and one of the greatest tools and challenges of any writer.  Those darn blame squiggly lines that make letters, then words, then sentences, if only they could emerge from our conscious fully formed into the very work of art we're imagining--our work would be so much easier and quite frankly--boring, vapid, and a word I just learned while writing this sentence-bromidic which comes from bromide--a cliche and a sedative--ha!  Now there's a good comparison--cliche as sedative.

We often talk about the importance of unique language- inventive turn of phrase--lyrical imagery--all of which require a firm and expanding command of language.  Not to mention spelling.  At least, that's what my English teachers always told me in grade school, high school, college, graduate school and at the water cooler at the college where I work (it's in the same room where we host our department gatherings).  So why am I such a blasted lousy speller? I blame it on dyslexia--which took me a devil of a long time to learn how to spell, so did restaurant and I still frequently need help with soldier.  This is my way of saying, do your best with spelling grammar and don't hide behind any excuses like dyslexia, my spell check is broke, learn as many words as you can, inside and out.

I love the opening of "Almost a Whole Trickster" where the narrator (who is never identified by gender nor is the character's gender revealed within the story) pinches Ashinabe words with a dying relative--alluding to the power of words.  Not just how they sound, what they mean according to a dictionary or the connotations we ascribe to them culturally,but also because what they mean to us emotionally.  Those two family members rode to the hospital in the dead of winter pinching summer words.  The very idea is beautiful, poetic, and emotional all in one.

For this reason, we need to understand all of the layers of language and use them in our writing.  To do that, we have to love language, look at words from every possible angle--for instance, is there a reason angle and angel are but flipped letters apart? Did anyone else notice that "lousy" looks like someone's name. Or is that just to me? The girl who loves words like pifflesquat, sluiced, and onomatopoeia (even if she does have to look it up to know how to spell it).  We need to understand their sound, their rhythm, their meaning, their emotional resonance, their cultural significance in various cultures.  For instance-- to be smart here in the US, you need to be intelligent, to be smart in the UK only requires a sense of fashion--or to use another of mine--to be natty.  Play is also a necessity-- throw your words around a bit-- see how they can play off each other-- sarcasm, irony, and no it isn't ironic that John Crapper invented the toilet, after all that's why it's called the Crapper-- he invented it.  And low and behold that Otto fellow and his French rival made into quite a song in the film Beaches are both fictional and the real inventor of the modern female undergarment was Mary Phelps Jacob who did so circa 1913.  By the way, she was also  a poet.  She and her husband were also the first publishers of folks like James Joyce and Ezra Pound.  

In other words, don't be afraid to go where the words lead you--to learning new ones, figuring out how to spell old ones, urban legends, inventors, and the first publishers of writers.  You never know what you might discover by looking at words in all their splendor.

Please do share a bit about words--what new words have you learned lately? Any urban legends you've debunked? New meanings? Pronunciations that have changed how you view a word.  For instance, check out how you're supposed to say cupola.  Is it said the way you thought it was? If so, where do you live? Why should that matter?

Write on, write on...

1 comment:

  1. When I lived in NYC, David Ives was just beginning his career and I used to watch his short one acts at Manhattan Punchline. Good to hear he must be doing well!