I am a language nerd. Although I agree with Steven King’s assertion that any word you have to stop and look up in the thesaurus is the wrong word for whatever you’re writing, I really do love the way words fit together and the kind of lyrical wonder they can create when they’re strung together in pretty way (or — less pretty but more impressive — stacked up like a Jenga block).
It’s that kind of haphazard, teetering construction that I’m thinking about today.
One of the truisms of English lit that gets tossed around is that at the time that Shakespeare was writing, the English language was approximately one-fifth the size that it is today. One of the reasons that ol’ Will and his compatriots were notorious neologists (Shakespeare is credited with the invention of anywhere from 500 to 1700 new words, many still in common use today) was simply because they kept reaching for tools that not only weren’t there, but hadn’t been invented yet. The same is true of certain phrases and expressions.
What fascinates me is that I get to see a similar kind of lingual evolution on a day to day basis with my daughter. Granted, she is not (yet) Shakespeare, but she does face the same challenges faced by anyone trying to communicate in that era; a limited set of words from which to choose. In some cases, she points or otherwise indicates what she’s trying to say; in others, she uses the wrong words in hopes of (I think) being understood anyway.
But in others, she pulls a jenga block from the bottom of the stack, and moves it to the top of the tower. This leaves gaps, to be sure, but she gets to a place she might not otherwise have achieved, and in ways that expand both her understanding and mine.
few weeks month ago, she and I were lazing about the house on a Saturday. Actually, *I* was lazing, and Kaylee was restless and wanted to something — anything — more interesting. She was bored.
The problem was, she didn’t know the word ‘bored.’ For all she knew, the word for what she felt right then didn’t exist. (It didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s time either, and wouldn’t for almost 200 years.)
So, with this unnamed feeling, Kaylee came to me.
“Yes, I’m sad… and tired.”
“Ohh, that doesn’t sound good.”
“Yes. I’m sad, and I’m tired… and I want to DO something.”
Sad, and tired, and I want to do something; three linguistic jenga blocks stacked one on top of the next to reach bored. I understood her meaning perfectly, because it was a true and accurate summation of everything she was feeling right then; and far more informative than the single word.
I wonder, sometimes, if all the extra tools we have to work with in the language-as-it-exists-today make us better able to communicate, or actually prevent us from exercising some of our creative and analytic muscles.