Sunday, October 6, 2013

I Love Words

Marion D. Aldridge
 “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and lightning.”—Mark Twain

The first time I remember being impressed by the “right word” was when, as a young man, I read Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice. In a letter to Beverly Axelrod, he wrote, “Your letters to me are living pieces—chunks—of you.” I still have the paperback where I underlined that sentence and made note of the descriptive word: “chunks.

No lightning bug there. Lightning!

Piano lessons cost money, so I never took a piano lesson.

Libraries, on the other hand, are free. So I read. Tom Sawyer. Swiss Family Robinson. The Mark of Zorro. I won the summer reading contest at the West End Free Library on Eve Street in Augusta, Georgia. I learned to love words.

Words do not have to be multi-syllable to be savored. Being incarcerated is no better than being jailed. The prisoner probably cannot tell the difference.

I’m pretty sure no one except doctoral students ever says “methodological parameters.” You can research the entire corpus of John Steinbeck, Margaret Atwood and Alex Haley and never read that phrase. Simple and clear is almost always better.

Some words are loaded with meaning and continue to be fresh even though they have been around a while: grace, paradox, courage, wisdom, hope, curious, integrity.

Some words are fun. Persnickety. Brouhaha. Rambunctious. Imp. Skittish. Chartreuse. Slimy.

Plurals can be fascinating: A congregation of alligators. A flight of butterflies. A murder of crows. A pod of whales. How did people know this stuff before Google? A tower of giraffes. Is Google pulling our long legs? A scourge of mosquitoes. In South Carolina, that one is easy to believe. The best, of course, is an exaltation of larks.

I enjoy the dynamic nature of our language. Cookies and the cloud mean something different than just a few years ago. What’s not to value about a vocabulary that includes such words as: earworm, ringtone, Zen, diss, netiquette? I could probably live without twerking, kankles, sissification and incentivize, but with language, you take the ugly with the exquisite.

Word combinations can double the pleasure: mash up, extreme scrupulosity, password fatigue, and unintended consequences. I have a personal affection for pleasantly plump.

Maybe the best word of all for a writer: period.


Gerald Aldridge said...

Marion, this is my favorite of all your posts thus far, as I too love words. My most despised phrase is "incent"...I even prefer incentivize to incent. Anyway, thanks for this is masterful indeed!

Sarah Herlong said...

My favorite words are crepuscular and excoriate.