Thursday, September 29, 2011

Confessions of a Word Junkie

When I was in my tender years and my mind full of mush was still extremely pliable, my brother (who is nine years my senior) told me that words have meaning.

I don’t know if he realizes the profound affect that his words had on my writing life. The voice I have I developed in part because of his simple statement. So credit applied where credit is due, I have a confession to make.

I am a word junkie.

To further foster my addiction, my parents introduced me to the world’s most valuable book extant, the dictionary. If there was a word I didn’t understand, they helped me look it up for the definition. It was a glorious discovery. I could insult adults and peers alike without calling them vulgar names, and most were none the wiser. I began to read the Complete Unabridged Webster’s Dictionary at the age of seven, avariciously. I’m not saying that I understood all of it at the time, nor was I in a position to voice newfound knowledge I may have happened across. Still I read it, cover to cover and back again.

My elementary school had a basic library. Once a week each class was allowed to go to the library and check out a book. It was required to check out a book. The trouble was, I had read almost every book in that library by the time I hit second grade. My mother was the parent/volunteer coordinator so I had spent a great deal of time in the library where I was quiet and out of the way. As all my classmates swarmed about the early reader chapter books, I struck out on my own path. The book I chose my first week was James Harriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. My second grade teacher attempted to talk me out of the choice and implied that I should act my age. The librarian, knowing how much material I could go devour in a week, defended me.

I also did not score any points with my fourth grade teacher when I tried to explain that the word august did not need to be capitalized in my sentence because I wasn’t using August the month, I was using august the adjective. Her reaction when she read the definition in the dictionary? I quote, “No one old enough to read a newspaper will understand this sentence, so change the word to wealthy and move on.”

“But I don’t mean wealthy, as in rich, affluent, or prosperous. I mean august, as in noble, majestic, or imposing.”

“People won’t understand. You want to be understood, don’t you?”

“I want to be understood by intelligent people who know how to use a dictionary if they don’t comprehend the meaning of words.”

Needless to say, I was not teacher’s pet that year.

I am continuously amazed at the scope in which our language has truly degraded. Most people, if they are honest with themselves, use the same 200 words in their daily speech. Why? English may not be the romance language, but every year we lose our ability to effectively communicate our ideas simply because we forget a word exists. Like the dandelion on the ill-used path of life; obscure words are tragically left behind unappreciated and misunderstood. There are nutrients in a dandelion that can feed the body. There are nutrients in words that will feed the soul.

I have another confession to make. I have to have my commercials on television screened before I can watch them. Every single time the animal shelter one comes on and that song about being in the arms of the angels, I cry for days. I want to adopt them all, It’s a silly notion. No one person can assume responsibility for every abused or abandoned creature and maintain sanity. Those who try are labeled hoarders and become the abusers they rescued their charges from, perpetuating the vicious cycle.

So how do my two confessions relate to one another? I have an unhealthy addiction for language and an overwhelming desire to adopt every word in the English dictionary. They are valuable. Each one has a meaning. So many languages die every day for want of someone to speak them. Unfortunately, the technology that helps us see into the dark stretches of the universes is also the catalyst that confines our ability to express our imaginations.

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