Base words are uttered only by the base
And can for such at once be understood,
But noble platitudes: ah, that’s a case
Where the most careful scrutiny is needed
To tell a voice that’s genuinely good
From one that’s base but merely has succeeded.
city of words, lithograph by Vito Acconci 1999
In the beginning was the word.
I have always had a passion for words, playing with them, making up words, finding the one word which expresses exactly what I want to say. It must be quite exasperating for others sometimes, waiting for me to finish my convoluted sentences, allowing me to go off into side alleys and dead ends, getting lost in clauses and sub clauses. Translations often took me longer than they should have done, even when I was simply working on a technical specification.
Anyway, I’ve enjoyed it. Still do.
Communication is such a hugely important part of living and interacting; the lucky ones, who have speech, use predominantly words to do so, as well as body language and facial expression. Nowadays, of course, many of us sit in front of computers, typing words on a word-processor, words we hope make sense to others.
“I have something to tell you”.
I have something to tell you. These words. Dread words. Chill-words. Words no middle-aged wife wishes to hear uttered numbly, yet with a ghastly hopeful smile, by her middle-aged husband.
When I read this paragraph in Joyce Carol Oates’ novel ‘Middle Age’,
recently, I thought of the many ways the word ‘WORD’ itself, as in, word, n. a unit of spoken language, (etc.), can convey many different meanings, depending on how it is used and the phrase in which it appears.
You can be word-perfect, you can paint a word-picture, set a word-puzzle and enjoy word-play. You can produce a word-salad or be a word-splitter. You can also be a word-smith.
And then there are the many phrases, My Word, there are a lot of them!
Believe me, I give you my word on that! My word is my bond whereas his word cannot be taken for gospel; he hasn’t a good word to say for anybody. The word is that he puts words into your mouth before he takes the words right out of it again. I’ve been having words with him about this. I said “ I want a word with you,” which he didn’t like very much. But I carried on, “a word to the wise”, I said, “ a word in your ear”. “Fair words butter no parsnips”, I said, “that’s not the word for it”; “You may be a man of many words, but I will never take your word for it”, I said. “I simply cannot take you at your word, in fact, I can hardly get a word in edgeways with you”.
“In a word”, I said, “you break your word”. At which he became very angry and said “ One day I will make you eat your words”!
Let a poet have the last word:
I never liked you,
Liking things and places, and
Liking people best when their mouths are shut.
Go out and lose yourself in a jabbering world,
Be less than nothing, a vacuum
Of which words will beware
Lest by suction, your only assertion, you pull them in.
For that I like you, words,
You grow true.
To what? You tell me, words.
Run and I’ll follow,
Never to catch you up.
Turn back, and I’ll run.