Words paint pictures,
Words evoke memories,
Words express emotions.
Words of a moment
May last an eternity,
May cause pain.
I love words. Saying this, I have already used a word that has been demoted. Is “I love my child” not different from “I love French fries”? Failing a better word, I will let it stand.
There are other words English needs and has not. Light red has a name: pink. What about light blue?
Here, though, are some of the words we do have, that delight me. In the household where I grew up, my New England father sat on the davenport while my Southern mother beside him was on the sofa. When my children, raised in New York state, came back to visit, this piece of furniture became the couch.
Other regionalisms and variants charm me. My Victorian granny would never warn us about the “bull” in the next field. He was a “gentleman cow”. Mrs. Burton, who came to clean for us when I was a child, asked my brother and me to pick up our “play-purties” so she could vacuum. This, like Mr. Rumple the grocer’s “plum-nigh ten o’clock” was Appalachian, as we lived in southern Indiana.
Then there are the words which look or sound like their meaning. The godmother in Disney’s Cinderella movie commented that “windowsill” was a long thin word, while “apple dumpling” was round and plump. And when I see the word ”fox”, I see his brush of a tail straight up, and the crossed forepaws. “Level” is clearly balanced on the fulcrum of the “V”.
Let me not forget the joy of signs. A husband and wife each with a beach-side business to run, shared premises called “Perms and Worms”. Even better, the hunting-themed pub in England had its rest-room doors labeled “Pointers” and “Setters”.
Translation has been a trap for the unwary ever since language began, I guess. Back to Cinderella for a moment; her slippers were not glass but fur. The French word “vair” was somewhere along the tale’s history misheard as “verre”. And when I studied Greek in college, we read some of the New Testament in the original. I was surprised to find that the famous line “Peace on earth, goodwill to men” really reads “Peace on earth to men of good will”.
Without the least intention to mock, I often note mispronunciation with interest. There was the individual who must never have heard but only read the word “upholstery” so rendered it “ew-pholstery”. It seems Arabic speakers cannot pronounce “r” followed by “s”. My husband and his brother solved this two ways: speaking of a favorite store, one said “Sear”, the other, Searis. My Chinese doctor, with the well-known tendency to switch “R” and “L”, asked his nurse for the “rublicating jerry”.
My mother was a grammar nerd, taking a prescriptive attitude to language. She would ask to see store managers to tell them their signs should read “10 items or fewer”. I try to be more descriptive, recognizing the growth and change of language. Still, I do wonder why things are now said to “rock” or “suck”.
Back in the day, as we say now, a friend and I coined words, only two of which I can remember, but they are good ones. I don’t even know the real name for those things that we put under the legs of tables or chairs. Phil and I called them “rollersmokes”. Our galoshes were “clompi”, plural.
Anagrams was a favorite game in my childhood; now it’s Scrabble. My husband, for whom English was a second language, could nevertheless win routinely, as he went for the number score while I looked for interesting words.
As I age, I find that in speech, words often slip away from me. I picture words sorted by sound, piled in drawers in the back of my head; this because I have been known to pull out the wrong word from its drawer, saying “lantern” instead of “ladder”. I do better in writing, with time to think.
As long as I can read or write, speak or hear, words will be my passion.
My inner child, age 9, speaks:
I love words.
Daddy likes that I love words.
We talk about words.
That’s why he thinks
I should learn German.
He found teachers.
Brigitte came, then Ilse
And Lotte Lederer
And German books.
Pünktchen und Anton
I taught Dean Galloway
Words he says to me.
Whenever I leave to go home
He smiles and whispers to me
Ich liebe dich.