My mother had a book I coveted. It was hard covered and had yellowed endpapers. It wasn’t particularly beautiful but it was the book I turned to most often for words that work. It was filled with synonyms and antonyms. It reminded me that words dance with each other, they define each other, they grow and change over time. The evidence for the definition of a word is best found in how it is used. Read that again: the definition of a word is not always to be limited to the pages of canonical records like dictionaries, as if they are the ultimate arbiter of Truth.
Words that carry more than their own weight are like the circus strongman of the writing craft. Words like indefatigable, saudade, nuanced, morbid, indubitably, fraught, tangible, crescendo, insatiable, scintillating and transcendent. They dance across my tongue and across the blank page, begging for more: Begging to be read into. They dig holes and make mountains out of molehills. The evoke wonder and verisimilitude. Resplendent in their sacred clothes they paint worlds of depth and dimension.
They drag me across valleys and bid me to jump of cliffs into water of an unknown depth: Elation, bamboozle, grapple, majestic, gossamer, lustre, tempestuous, circuitous, kaleidoscope, shimmer, diaphanous and volatile. They bring hyperbole, exaggeration, understatement, parody, irony, hope, and sarcasm.
They bring with them a retinue of images: of similies and metaphors. They bring ekphrasis and Ephrasis; they bring illumination, elucidation, and open our eyes and hearts to immanance. They bring assonance and alliteration. Reportedly, C.S. Lewis’s favourite phrase was “silver salver” – roll that off your tongue.
They bring life to my weary soul while yet they pierce through muscle, tendon and sinew to the bone. They can be, as the epistle reads, a two edged sword, sharper than all else: bossy, forceful, dominant, intimidating, and beautiful, captivating, thoughtful, hopeful, and creative. The can uplift or disappoint, they can raise the reader on your shoulders or leave them struggling to pull themselves out of the quicksand. They can cut the antagonist of at the knees, and they can build a plinth of honour for the valorous.
The have a smell and a taste: unctuous, creamy, grainy, fragrant, with a pashmakian airiness. They roll around in your mouth and get stuck in your throat. They make you gasp for air and breathe a sigh of relief in turn. They taste bitter and sweet, and sour. They have an umami all of their very own: the way the right word is perfectly balanced with the rest of the word meal.
They have a sound too, as the homonymic music echoes from the vocal folds: the red shirted reader read from the grade school reader. Onomatopoeically, I look to Emily Dickinson for inspiration and to Shakespeare for mirth. He knew how to capture the ways words sound and to give his variously educated audience a chance at connecting with his characters.
There is a catharsis-inducing wonder to the power of words to evoke memory, just like the sense memory of touch, sound, and smell. It is the seventh sense.
I joke that my Masters in English Literature qualifies me for very little, except to say that I can write about literature and I have a licence to make up words. Yes, I might have made that last part up – but even if I am a self-ordained wordsmith, I reserve the right to use all or any of the following: bajunkajunk, shooskabab, redunkulous, gymos…
What’s your favourite word?
Have you made up any words lately?
With thanks to friends for sharing their favourite words with me!
Speaker. Reader. Thinker. Writer. Traveler. Advocate
Anna Blanch Rabe, founder of Anna Blanch Rabe & Associates, has been working with Social Enterprises, socially-responsible businesses, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations since 2006 to develop and effectively execute strategic, digital, and narrative initiatives to gain exposure, develop community capacity, attract talent, and reach new customers. Anna is an Australian-born speaker, writer and advocate. Connect with Anna on Academia.edu, Linked In, Instagram, facebook page, & Twitter.