I've been inspired by Garrison Keillor and the Writer's Almanac on NPR to be especially introspective this morning--usually, I find him kind of pompous and sometimes irritating, maybe because I was prejudiced against his voice by my dad's story from sort of knowing him in his college days and finding him pretty snobby and above everybody around him. But he reminded me today of my love for language. I have a sort of synesthesia about it: certain words bring with them an affinity of associations, all kinds of synonyms, visualizations and abstract impressions that make them "feel" a certain way. Maybe from growing up in a family of writers and poets, or maybe from the huge volumes of books I ate my way through from as soon as I could read, or maybe I'm just emo.

Words that have no traditional connotations towards certain emotions can feel hopeful, bittersweet, repellent, comforting, funny or troubling. For example: the word 'keen.' Keen feels and sounds like longing and anticipation, grief and mourning but also hope and striving. 'Keen' feels both like an infinitely sad song from missing someone or something lost, and like a zippy, 50's optimistic outlook, a readiness to see something be started or come to fruition. There are a lot of contradictions there that really attract me, so the more disparate and complex the associations, the more nostalgic affinity I generate for the word somewhere inside my brain's process.

The same sort of thing happens to make hilarious (to me) jokes out of typos and inadvertent word misuse. Like when I always type "Thnaks" at the end of emails: it makes me giggle to myself every time because it sounds like a robot alien is signing my messages. Or my possibly most common typo: "-tino" instead of "-tion" at the end of lots of words. I always read it in an Italian accent and hear "attent-iino" or "interpretat-iino" and am amused. I also find mistranslations really funny, whether they go to or from English--anything that juxtaposes non-sensical concepts due to shuffling of the modularity of language can strike me as tear-inducingly funny. I guess that's part of where jokes come from within languages, but I usually find cross-language versions much more entertaining.

I also have aversions to certain words: like the word "moist." I hate that word. It just feels like someone with blubbery lips and a really spitty, mucousy mouth chewing something squishy with their mouth open making what my sister used to call "the gross noise" (as if it was so incredibly gross as to be defined as the one and only grossest noise of all time). I almost feel nauseated just thinking and writing about it. Ugh. Or the word 'copious.' I just think of the medical use to describe 'copious amounts of mucous' or 'copious amounts of stool.' Yuck. No matter how descriptive these words might be for something I am writing about, I just can't bring myself to use them.

These physical, emotional packages might be what help me explain my science to people who aren't familiar with the jargon of my 'field'--I can always find about sixty different ways to express a concept, since each word or phrase I initially come up with has a whole host of alternatives just under the surface that can be brought out with a hand/arm motion to go along with them. Maybe I'm too into communicating, maybe I think about this a little too much. But I find such satisfaction in having this richness of imagining and visualizing and characterizing available, I'd never want to give it up--and it makes me a little sad to realize that maybe not everybody has this. At the very least, I'm happy today to have this flow, because I need to sit and plan through my "lines" for my 10-minute talk that is happening on Monday, so thanks Mr. Keillor.

4 thoughts on “Words

  1. I am totally in love with words. English is great in this regard, as we have such a rich vocabulary, with so many gradations of meaning. I just can't but help to use them to try and convey exactly what I mean. Yet I fear many of the non-native English speakers I interact with have trouble following me, precisely for this reason. I have a hard time stopping myself though.This despite being in a field where most people historically came from a hard core math/engineering, quantitative background. Which is somewhat strange, because I consider those to be somewhat deficient in my skill set. I have always been one of those people who in standardized tests always scored much higher in the verbal sections compared to the math/analytical sections. I also hate the word moist. I find it to be vaguely onomatopoetic. Yuck.

  2. Haha, I absolutely HATE the word 'moist'. It used to be a joke when I was a counselor at a girl scout camp. The other counselors would sit around me and stretch out the word: "mmoist. m-m-m-moisst. It's waaaaarm and mmmmmoist in here", they would tease. Ugh.

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