I found a spare dictionary at work last week and gleefully took it home, and now it’s displayed at the very top of my bookshelf. If I have to pick an odd hobby for when I’m old and curmudgeon, and when all I have left in life are inanimate objects, I would choose to collect dictionaries. They are totems, keepers of humankind’s kaleidoscopic logic and emotions changed by time.
When I was seven or eight years old, I copied the entire A section of Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary’s Tenth Edition. This edition is beautiful: deep red cover, silky pages with shimmering gold edges, always cool to the touch. According to the inscription inside, my father gave the dictionary to my mother as a gift. August 23, 1992. I’m tickled by the idea that this was considered a gift. Dad didn’t give her jewelry or flowers, but a dictionary . . . I sat at my parents’ desk in their bedroom, secluded from my sister and my brother who took up more space than me. This was back when my family of five lived in a two-bedroom apartment. The desk lamp cast shadows against the walls, letting out just enough light to hit the pages and illuminate new words.
I still discover words by reading. It’s always a solid experience. When someone mentions an unfamiliar word, I’m almost never able to catch it. Or I would feel awkward stopping that person mid-sentence and asking, “Sorry, what does that mean?”
But I’d forgotten the second part to committing these words to memory: repetition, the muscle memory of scrawling each letter, the right side of my palm sliding across a page in a notebook. I’m noticing how easily words slip away from me, so I’m compelled to return to the dictionary, to this childhood method of capturing words. I’m also revisiting the aid of visuals. I used to draw pictures to accompany words and their definitions. On computer paper folded into eight sections—each reserved for a word—I once sketched an image for eviscerate: entrails hanging out of an open stomach wound. (I love that word and its sound—a hiss in the middle, a bite at the end.)
The words I love are usually multisyllabic—and not often heard from people’s mouths, unless those people are pompous. I would love to include such words into my writing, but as much as I want to, that’s not my writing style. When I try, it’s a hundred-dollar-word surrounded by dollar-words, and that’s no good. I’ve learned to love my plainness.
Here are some of my favorite words. What’s yours?
Sonder *a made-up word that’s been adopted by logophiles*
As I was writing this post, I needed help from the WordPress tech support. Mahangu chatted with me and before I signed off, I was compelled to ask him for his favorite word. Obviously surprised, he took a minute to think.
“I guess one of my favourite words would be mercy. It’s a tiny word, but is a central part of what makes anyone a good person, right?”
Mahangu is a genius, obviously.
Fleeting Thoughts is a space where I can release my imperfect, unfiltered words that often occur when my body is still but my mind is racing.
Other Fleeting Thoughts