Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: words

A Story That Left me an Emotional Mess

Wow, what a story The Dictionary of Lost Words was. There was so much to take to heart, so many leads in new directions. I was a emotional mess when I closed it.

I have a habit; one I refuse to get control of. I’m always looking for books to buy and read. I know! It’s crazy. I mean, buying them is one thing, but READ them too! I’m nuts! But it’s true. Wherever I am, I MUST browse any book section, and I cannot resist books about books, libraries, writers, or words. It doesn’t matter who wrote them or when, they are instantly tossed into the basket.

You know I’m kidding. They are carefully placed into the basket away from other items that may endanger them.

I picked up The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams at Costco a few months ago and it did not disappoint me. I’ll be honest. I didn’t know much about it, and it was slow to start, but then it just started to snowball, and I ended up devouring the last half in a mad rush to get it all in, as if someone might take it away from me. Much in the way I eat tacos, I might add.

Sitting here trying to tell you why I loved it has had me stumped. Like I said when I started reading it, at first, I thought I had already read it but then realized that it’s set inside a true story about the making of the Oxford Dictionary, which I’ve watched a movie about recently. In this book, the fictional character, Esme, grows up in the room where her father works helping create that first dictionary.

Doesn’t seem that fascinating until she gets deeper into the story. It spans from 1886 to 1928. Think about that. What else was going on in England at that time? A lot. And this book is all from a woman’s point of view. There were ideas about words, how they are used, what was considered vulgar. Women’s suffrage and World War I. Relationships (my favorite) and growing up female at that time, so different than my life. And “Esperanto,” a whole language “made up, in a way. It’s meant to be easy enough for anyone to learn – it was created to foster peace between nations.” I need to know more about THAT.

I closed it crying it was so beautiful. My husband thought someone had died.

It raised so many questions for me, so much I want to look deeper into, starting with women’s suffrage.

When I started thumbing through the book, thinking of what to share, I got stumped. I just sat here with a cup of coffee, staring out at the desert. It was all too much.

But then it hit me. I’m trying to convey the whole book to you when what I really want to do is tell you how it made me feel and that I think you should read it too. So here I am.

I’ll leave you with a few of my most favorite quotes. It was hard to pick just a few. The whole book was beautiful. I’m going backwards through the book, looking for my highlights.

“If war could change the nature of men, it would surely change the nature of words, I thought.”

Yes, it does. Every war brings with it new words, some funny like “boo-koo” and some not so funny, like new definitions of horror and despair that get us no where.

“Say it,” he said.
“Say what?”
“Whatever is on your mind.”
I searched his face. I didn’t want anything to change the way he looked at me, but I also wanted him to understand me completely.

This went right into my soul. Have you felt this way? I have.

“Well, it’s easy to say the right things– “ she glanced towards me “– but words are meaningless without action.”
“And sometimes action can make a lie of good words,” Gareth said.

“People have always taken different roads to get to the same place,” Gareth said when he turned back to face us. “Women’s suffrage won’t be any different.”

Much of her words on women’s suffrage reminded me of the Civil Rights Movement.

“You are correct in your observation that words in common use that are not written down would necessarily be excluded. Your concern that some types of words, or words used by some types of people, will be lost to the future is really quite perceptive. I can think of no solution, however. Consider the alternative: the inclusion of all these words, words that come and go in a year or two, words that do not stick to our tongue through generations. They would clog the Dictionary. All words are not equal (and as I write this, I think I see your concern more clearly: if the words of one group are considered worthier of preservation than those of another…well, you have given me pause for thought.)”

So many languages of the past, whole cultures, are lost because that civilization never wrote anything down. Once writing was invented, things changed. That doesn’t mean those people had nothing of importance to remember. But how do you document what isn’t written? Those smart phones, the ones everyone has in their hands, recording just about everything…game changer.

“Mostly I set the type. I’m a compositor.” “You make the words real,” I said, finally looking at him. … “I prefer to say that I give them substance – a real word is one that is said out loud and means something to someone. Not all of them will find their way to a page. There are words I’ve heard all my life that I’ve never set in type.”

There were so many more wonderful quotes that gave me pause. But this next one grabbed hold of my heart. I’ve committed it not only to memory, but to a small post-it on my fridge.

Just because we have wounds and scars, doesn’t make us less useful. We’re only chipped, not broken. We keep going on in this life.

Lexicon! Let’s go!

I saw the word “lexicon” and immediately went into a dialog with myself.

lexicon

Lexicon? I want to go!

Go to what?

The LexiCon.

It’s not a place. It’s a word for a collection of words, a vocabulary used by a specific group.

Well, it sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Would you dress up as a word and see if people can guess what you are? Or the group the words are used by? That doesn’t sound like as much fun.

What in the world are you talking about? Dressing up for what?

The con, silly! The Lexi-Con! It’s like ComiCon but for word nerds like you, a whole convention center filled with word nerds. I went to a Library Conference once. I imagined it would be so quiet, wall to wall stereotypical libertarians from every movie you ever saw.

Was it?

Sort of, but not really. I saw Ray Bradbury there. He was the keynote speaker and read from his book The Halloween Tree. I bought that book for the kids. It’s one of our very favorites!

Why were you there? You’re not a librarian.

At the time I was volunteering for a state-wide homeschool advocacy group, CHN, and we had a booth there. The idea was to show library’s our publications, what we do, and how they can share information with their communities. Homeschoolers LOVED libraries when I was homeschooling.

Yeah, I remember those days. Story times, craft activities, and all those books the kids would bring home every week. They’d have them all over the coffee table. The one place we never had to say, “No, you can’t have that.” The answer was always, “Yes! Let’s get that one too!”

…sigh…yeah. Good times.

And remember all the weekly walks to the library?

Through all those neighborhoods. We’d play at the park a bit, stop to look at gardens, the train tracks. An all-day adventure.

And totally free.

So, are you going to go?

To what?

The Lexi-Con!

Thanks for the fun inspiration, Sammi Cox!

I’ve been suddenly inspired by one of her “challenges” before. If you’d like to read it, hop over to The Temerity of that Woman. I should do them more often. They always make me think and smile.

Translating Thoughts into Words

“For Man was a culture-bearer as well as a soul-bearer, but his cultures were not immortal and they could die with a race or an age, and then human reflections of meaning and human portrayals of truth receded, and truth and meaning raised, unseen, only in the objective logos of Nature and the ineffable Logos of God. Truth could be crucified; but soon, perhaps, a resurrection.”

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

ineffable: too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words

I only recently discovered this word and now here it is again! Thoughts don’t need words. We use words to translate our thoughts to others. Some thoughts are simply too complex for words. God can be described that way.

Let’s say that I have an idea, a complicated plan to create a machine to do something that you can’t conceive of needing. And you, well, you’re not that educated. Your vocabulary is limited because you’re just a simple farmer. It’s not that your stupid or unintelligent. It’s just that I have more experience with machines and all the words that go with them. (You can see my lack of an extensive vocabulary already, right? I know. I’m working on it.)

I explained this to my son this morning. “You mean like when you ask me what I’m doing and I just look at you because I do not EVEN have the time to explain…because…well…(sheepish look, is mom going to kill me)…it’s beyond you?” He has an honest way of talking that gets him in trouble sometimes. But he’s right, that’s exactly what I mean. It’s not an insult, it just is what it is.

Anywho…back to the quote…

This book is awesome. It’s effectively describing what has happened on earth several times over the millennia that humans have been on it. We build up a world, a culture, destroy it, live in the dark, and then resurrect it. I’m devouring this book and I’m hoping someone around here reads it too so we can talk about it!

Points of View

“”Vulgar” is the word intellectuals use when they mean “vile,” by which they actually mean in disagreement with their own views.”

From Commentary by Joseph Epstein (2010)

Vulgar: lacking sophistication or good taste; unrefined

Vile: morally despicable or abhorrent

I had to look those words up. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I may read a lot, but I’m definitely not a scholar but I’ve been trying to do a better job of actually understanding the meaning of a word, sentence, or paragraph, instead of just going with the feeling I get from reading into it. In the past, I would have thought “vulgar” and “vile” meant basically the same thing, but maybe had a different intensity of feeling. Obviously, from the definition of the words, that isn’t true.

Something can be vulgar but not vile. Blowing your nose at the table may be considered bad taste or ill mannered, but not morally wrong.

I snickered at this line in the essay because I saw in my mind’s eye, a snooty English professor type from an old melodrama, looking down his nose at a young backwoods auto-didactic attempting to discuss his political views. “A man like THAT can’t possibly have anything intelligent to add to OUR learned conversation!”

The thing about views, though, is that everyone’s view is slightly different. Even people on the same mountain top have a slightly different view because they all have different backgrounds that they brought up with them, different baggage from their childhood’s, different intellects and personalities. Not one of those “views” is morally superior to another, none can be “vile” or “vulgar.”

My conclusion: behavior can be described as vile or vulgar, not points of view.

Are Words Magic?

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Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

“I’m just doing what I want to do,” he said. “Don’t call it by any other name. I’m just doing what I want to do – and that’s all my mother ever did, too. Just what she wanted to do.”

-The World According to Garp (p155)

I’ve heard a lot about “identity” over the last…oh, man…twenty years?! The two things I’ve discovered and decided to stay with until I find evidence to the contrary are these:

  1. What you do is not who you are.
  2. How you feel is not who you are.

I will not “identify” as anything but a human being. My “tribe” is human, as far as I can tell. There are so many facets that make up who we are and even if you had the same interests and background as I do, the odds are we still wouldn’t see the world the same way. We’d still interpret events differently because we are different people.

What’s the danger of defining your “identity?” The moment you start thinking of yourself as one specific thing, as part of a group, you put yourself in a box. You limit yourself.

Christians don’t do this. Mothers don’t act like that. Introverts don’t like these things.

The statements can go on and on forever until we’re chasing our own tails trying to be what the consensus of descriptions say we are, but who we are is not any of one of these things or any combination of them.

A personal example? If a homeschooler is what I am, what happens when I am not anymore? What am I when my child expresses an interest in going to school, my child’s father doesn’t want to homeschool, or I just find myself unhappy homeschooling? Suddenly, I have to change who I am. My whole worldview has to be adjusted. “I am homeschooling my children right now,” gives me more flexibility.

Michelle, that’s just semantics. You’re nitpicking about word choices.

Am I?

In my opinion, words have magic in the strangest ways. Even when we think we know what we really mean when we personally use a word, the culture we live in, the meanings that other people in our social groups give things, tend to creep into our thinking.

It reminds me of a witch’s spell and magic incantations. Ancient cultures believed that words could do magic. From Pagan rites to the Bible’s Genesis, words are powerful. We think we are beyond all that superstitious nonsense, but maybe we’re wrong. Words are potent. They can change how we perceive the world.

We should use them wisely. Instead of naming your group or identity, just do what you want to do, what feels good to you, and be honest with the people around you.

I am Michelle, a human and I’m on a path of my very own.

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