Monday, May 3, 2010
Sneeze. There's a word. It's May, there's pollen everywhere, and I'm sneezing my head off. I don't suffer from typical allergy symptoms, but I can be felled by debilitating sinus headaches on occasion. I pop Tylenol Sinus like candy, but sometimes the best cure is sticking my head in the freezer for a few minutes. Try it; and try to ignore that six month old container of Haagen Dazs you never got around to finishing.
Obviously, words are the most important part of a writer's raison d'etre. What types of words? Big words, little words, complicated words, simple words...words. Not a day goes by where we all don't have an encounter with them.
I have memories of learning my letters in kindergarten with the help of weird looking letter "people". There was Miss A, Mr. B, Mrs. C (not Mrs. Cunningham from Happy Days) and so on. We would sit in a circle and stare at a large picture of Mr. or Miss whoever, and my teacher would give us examples of words that started with the particular letter. We also got little take-home pictures of these letter people and were eventually supposed to wind up with the entire alphabet. This was kindergarten in the early 70s so chances are, I never had possession of the entire alphabet. But, who can remember back that far?
I personally don't have patience for people who try to use fancy words in everyday conversations. Instead of proclaiming, "My, he is quite duplicitous, isn't he?", please keep it simple and just tell me, "He's a goddamn liar!" I know "duplicitous" is far more refined than "goddamn liar", but I'm usually more appreciative of the honesty, if it is in the proper context. Maybe you don't want to call someone a "goddamn liar" in a boardroom, but if we're just hanging out having a beer or a cup of coffee, please leave "duplicitous" packed away in your vocabulary suitcase. There will be plenty of occasions for its use; trust me.
I used to be a huge fan of William Safire's On Language columns in the Sunday New York Times magazine. I've learned a lot from Mr. Safire, as well as from all the books I've read. When I immersed myself in Syracuse University professor Mary Karr's wonderful memoir, The Liars Club, I noticed she had a penchant for the word "hork". There was a lot of "horking" going on in that book, and the word made me chuckle every time I read it. She could have used "vomit", "barf" or "upchuck", but "hork" had exponentially more comedic value, considering hers is probably one of the worst childhoods on record. Former New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Rick Bragg, wrote three memoirs about his impoverished youth in rural Alabama in very precise, straightforward language. All three reduced me to tears.
I'm not suggesting there is no place for the long-winded and intricate. I love that, too; especially nowadays when communication is reduced to 140 characters or less thanks to Twitter, and people who have yet to evolve past the standard mobile phone. At least now, all those "texting" phones have "full QWERTY keyboards". I've always loved the QWERTY grouping on a typewriter or keyboard, but I never thought I'd live to see the day when "QWERTY" would actually mean something. Go out and get those "QWERTY" keyboard phones, folks; I am sick and tired of all your abbreviating. "C U L8R" is not proper English!
So, what are this writer's favourite words? "Hork", of course; "flummox" and "peccadillo". Am I sometimes flummoxed by my peccadilloes? You bet your ass I am.