Words Matter Week: Day #6

Friday
If you had to eliminate one word or phrase from the English language, what would it be? Why?

A certain supercilious, if not super-sillyus, character in English-language literature was heard to remark: “When I use a word . . . it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

Aliceroom3-Wikimedia

This Illustration was by Sir John Tenniel, for Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. It was obtained via Wikimedia Commons.

Then this pointedly opinionated fellow continued to egg on another young character (sorry, I could not resist), asserting that verbs are very nearly wild stallions galloping across an open plain. Such fluidity in language, where words exist anew in each person who uses them, does not a working human system make. However, it does pierce an arrow right at the heart of the issue of connotation and denotation (what a word could mean—what it implies or suggests—versus what a word does literally mean, usually as defined by an accepted reference source such as a dictionary). Said a slightly different way, are you a prescriptivist or a descriptivist with regard to language?

When I was younger, some words used to niggle: impact as a verb or idear for idea, for instance. But as time passed and I had more experiences and gained some knowledge, I ceased being a prescriptivist with respect to linguistics. Instead, I eased into linguistic description (or linguistic descriptivism). One might even say I matured into it.

So, I would not remove a single word from any world language, either extant or deceased. I would, however, remove many concepts or experiences: hatred, warfare, racism, classism, ignorance, murder, rape, child abuse and neglect, and death head the list. But, alas, I can sometimes be a bit of a head-in-the-clouds or clouds-in-the-head kind of gal. And yet I sincerely hope I am not the only dreamer.

What, if anything, would you remove from the lexicon, if you had the power?

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Words Matter Week: Day 5

Thursday
What person in your life helped you understand the importance of choosing words carefully? What would you say to them if you met them today?

Five, five, words alive! Welcome to Thursday, Day 5 of Words Matter Week (WMW).

Mentoring-team-success-Make A Living Writing, Carol Tice

Many professional writers today offer mentoring services. One such writer is Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing. I found this graphic at Carol’s site. If you’re not interested in mentorship, at the very least check out her thriving writing community.

This was one of the more difficult WMW prompts for me. For I’ve been fortunate in my life to have several people who guided me toward a love of words, as well as being in situations simpatico—even if some of them were very adverse at the time—to the creative process. And who hasn’t been inspired by authors, journalists, musicians, photographers, artists, advocates, historians, or dancers from the world at large, outside our bubbles of direct experience? As I’ve already mentioned many of those literary mentors at my post here, I won’t enumerate them again this week. But I will send a digital shout-out to those word-folk who helped forge my love of wordsmithing.

Mentors Extraordinaire:

For Mrs. H: Thank you for sticking by me when I wasn’t the best, the brightest, or the most well-behaved student. It was because of you that I realized that spelling and diagramming sentences were important.

For Mrs. B: The daily journaling I did in your class was an invaluable experience to me as a young writer. That you believed in my writing (a satire piece) enough to suggest I send it to a literary magazine astounds me still today, and I thank you heartily for all you did as a mentor to encourage me to prop up my angsty self-esteem.

For Ms. F: You were tough, but you taught me how to write a good, evidence-based essay and to explore the canon. And when to blaze into other literary territories.

For Uncle J: You broadened my world experiences by taking me to a play, a symphony, and other artistic endeavors, as well as introducing me to other cultures and the notion that I could reach beyond our own limited, if upland, borders.

For Professors F and S: Artists in your own right, you whose professionalism and creativity remain real-world models of poetry-writing that I aspire to today. I humbly thank you.

For Dr. R: I owe so much of my thesis’ success to your guidance. You were the balanced and involved male intellectual I ‘d not had the privilege of knowing enough of in my life. You—if no one else—taught me several salient facts:

  1. Words slip, slide, perish, and sometimes break.
  2. Hard work and even harder study can pay off.
  3. Literature can be a passion, and maybe even a comfortable disease (i.e., a lifelong profession).
  4. There are worse things than to be a swinger of birches. Also, homo ludens. And Faulkner and Frost can be fun!
  5. Sandra Bullock makes some people’s “teeth sweat,” as yours.
  6. When in doubt, seek out a covey of quail. (Okay, to be fair, I don’t kill animals; I do, however, shoot them in photographs whenever I’m able.)
  7. I suspect there’s a hell of a good universe where you are now. I would say “let’s go,” but I have miles to go before I sleep (hope springs eternal, anyway). How’s that for mixing poets, Dr. R?

I will share Day 6 (Friday) later today, friends. Meanwhile, trip the light blogtastic and visit NAIWE’s WMW site for Friday’s prompt.

What Erich Segal Got Wrong about Love

forgivenesslib_mandela

Cartoon can be found at truthdig (please consider purchasing it directly from the cartoonist).

Welcome to the large-hadron collider that is Words Matter Week, Day Two. If you haven’t yet, please visit the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) Web site dedicated to this sixth incarnation of WMW.

Today’s WMW topic talks about life changes:

Tuesday
What word, said or unsaid, has or could change your life? How?

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”   ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

*****

I’m peering through a literary kaleidoscope on this mattersome matter; that is to say, on this important theme. I keep fishing up two words: I’m sorry.

And yet, we are told “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Most people know this famous phrase from the Love Story book by Erich Segal, if not the movie.

To be fair, I’ve never read the entirety of Mr. Segal’s book, and I’m probably taking his quote out of context. Plus, I don’t mean to rip romance novels, but what hubristic jerk of a character really thinks in this absolutist way? If that’s the point of the line (to set up an antihero or villain), then bravo.

In my experience, love and humility are intertwined. Human beings are fallible, hence love and other human emotions, as well as the words used to express them, are imperfect. Words slip, slide, perish, and even sometimes break–at least according to American poet T.S. Eliot (read “Four Quartets” for these lines).

Now, I’m no Sybil of Cumae, but I think a simple “I’m sorry” might have the ability to transform some part of a life I have rued (to rework a line from poet Robert Frost). I’ve been party, unfortunately, to a few toxic relationships in my time, but I’ve also had to make my own share of mea culpas. So I know how two tiny words, three syllables, two or three breaths, can budge bitter hearts and begin to rebuild ransacked worlds.

Forgiveness, of self or of others, could free us from the suffering born of regret or anger or loss. And it’s hard to love if we’re unwilling or unable to either forgive or allow forgiveness.

So, were he alive, I’d love to pick Mr. Segal’s brain about that touchstone line. I suspect he might even regret it himself, in that many people know him chiefly for that line, taken out of context.

What word or words could reorder your world? While you’re pondering this, I urge you to consider taking part in the Write Tribe Festival of Words, also 2 March to 8 March 2014.

Finally, I’m sorry, Ryan. I never meant to hurt you, but, conversely, I’m glad you are where you are today, as I am where I am. Things worked out exceptionally well for us both.

Atomic Words and the Authors Who Exploded My World

Bleeding Pen--ObjectsThe word I’d found in my grandmother’s book fascinated me down to the cellular level. P-tar-mi-gan. Ptar-mig-an. How do you even pronounce it?

Little did I know then, but words would collide, then cohere, to round out my “observable universe.”

mat·ter

noun \ˈma-tər\

2b :  material substance that occupies space, has mass, and is composed predominantly of atoms consisting of protons, neutrons, and electrons, that constitutes the observable universe, and that is interconvertible with energy

And as worlds go, I started small. A Dog Called Kitty was one of the first chapter books I read as a child. Fast forward to my “tween” years and I was reading everything from Brontë to Lovecraft to King. And when I turned over that pink scrap of paper and began to write my first horror—and horrible, I might add—short story, I certainly didn’t know what I was going to make of my life, but I hoped it might have something to do with language.

So it was with great interest that I discovered “Words Matter Week” (WMW) a few years ago, brought to you by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE). This year’s WMW features a question each day, and NAIWE is actively seeking bloggers’ and writers’ ruminations on the power and prominence of words in our lives. I encourage you to participate all week long, March 2-8, 2014.

Monday
Writers craft words into memorable phrases, stories, poems and plays.
What writers make your heart sing? Why?

Unfortunately, I am limited in that I can read in only two languages, so I haven’t had the opportunity to touch all corners of the globe with this informal “Authors I Love” list. Naturally, I am open to your suggestions and will enjoy reading meditations on how words matter to you.

To prevent eyestrain, I will only briefly explain why each author has exploded my consciousness, thus reshaping my world.

In no particular order, here are some writers worth getting to know:

  1. William Shakespeare: A shroe, a shroe, my dingkom for a shroe! But seriously, hands-down, the Maestro Wordsmith.
  2. Charles Dickens: Character-driven, highly descriptive, and conflict-laden. Simply put, the best character-namer in the business.
  3. Mark Twain: Huckleberry Finn and the “damned human race.”
  4. Flannery O’Connor: Gothic, Southern, conflicted. One of the best short story writers in the English language.

    flannery-oconnor3

    Photograph from the Southern Literary Trail

  5. Stephen King: Abandon all hope, ye who attempt to write as well as the King of Horror (as I did in my callow youth).
  6. Anne Carson: Faces pointed at me like knives. The surgeon’s skilled touch, but with words.
  7. Jean Auel: Research meets a strong female heroine or two.
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien: Language, lore, elves, and more.
  9. Harlan Ellison: Angry candy, a paladin of the lost hour, screaming without a mouth.
  10. Ray Bradbury: The writer’s writer; Martians, book-burnings, and pricked thumbs.
  11. William Faulkner: Eating toothpaste, dirty drawers, Yoknapatawpha, “Barn Burning,” and the “human heart in conflict with itself.”
  12. Tennessee Williams: Streetcars, lobotomies, tragedies, menageries.
  13. Marianne Moore: Imaginary gardens with real toads in them.
  14. T.S. Eliot: A modernist metaphysical poet whose music resonates into my time-present, time-past, and time-future.FourQuartets-book cover
  15. Wallace Stephens: Things as they are were changed upon Stephens’ blue guitar.
  16. e.e. cummings: listen, i dont pity one bit this überabsurd, underappreciated helluva good universe-creator.
  17. Toni Morrison: Haunting, harrowing.
  18. Julie Otsuka: Incisive, like a scalpel.
  19. Samuel Beckett: We are all born astride the grave.
  20. Dean R. Koontz: Three words: Watchers (the book).
  21. F. Scott Fitzgerald: Gatsby‘s partial people.
  22. Sherman Alexie: His works are at once human(e) and humorous. Pathos and black humor at their finest, and all “absolutely true”!
  23. (Poet) Allison Funk: At the epicenter.
  24. Langston Hughes: Sadly, we all defer dreams sometimes.
  25. O. Henry: Hometown boy, short-storyist and master of the “twist” at the end.
  26. James Baldwin, whose writing reflects back to me constantly and is rather like “a great block of ice [that] got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long”
  27. Vladimir Nabokov: I ooze with disgust for and loathing of Humbert Humbert (well done, Mr. Nabokov), but the writing is unparalleled.
  28. Maryn McKenna (science writer): Infectious diseases, you gotta love ’em.
  29. Carl Zimmer (science writer): Parasite rex and more.
  30. Piers Anthony: Wordplay and swordplay; dub me a Fanthony, but there’s nary a Mundaneday with this guy around.

Who bears your cup of literary nectar? I’d love suggestions of other authors and works.