I have been having a long standing romance that isn’t with my husband. It has on many a occasion meant taking my attention and care elsewhere. Yet I feel no guilt and would do it again if caught…..
Let me justify.
I have a tenderness towards words. Apparently I am what you call a Logophile. Which makes it sound like I have some nasty move away from me disease. But in my case it actually reveals how the immense variety of words; depth and cadence of my primary language English absorbs me. I find it uplifting gleaning a new word or variation. I keep a note book on my person and another by my bed to write down wonderfully sounding expressions I’d like to learn the meaning of or those which have caught my imagination and I wish not to forget. This is a habit passed down from my immigrant mum who upon arriving in the UK determinedly took to improving her broken English. At odd moments I flick through the dictionary for fun and have to admit to once asking for the complete set of The Oxford Dictionaries for my birthday…20 volumes, 21,728 pages….which was oddly turned down. Oh my, the nerd in me is ecstatic thinking what could have been….
Words are my proclivity. Encompassing shades and nuances, our lexicon advocates for how creatively and expansively we view the world. You cannot but be magnanimous towards humankind if you have a partiality for words and their meaning. I am of the old school which believes language is a formidable tool we should exercise. Where using thoughtful words can convey meaning or emotion more exactly or penetratingly than the limited blunt vocabulary of our everyday. Do you know by one estimate there are over 220,000 words in the English language including c50,000 defined as obsolete? Research indicates we actively use c20,000 of these.
‘Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world’. Susan Sontag.
Words enable communication but also encourage powerful visual images to foster understanding of an object or event. Words and sentences help us construct meaning and through alchemy turn complexity into thought. There is a theory the words we each use are not neutral; they shape our thoughts and perceptions giving rise to individual viewpoints or output. For example how you or I would observe or explain colour, objects, events, emotion, risk taking could and does diverge because of the words cascading through our minds. But I’m not sure how a controlled experiment to verify is executed. There are other aspects of culture or personality that could be driving this difference. Perhaps unconsciously it makes sense given we are each drawn differently to sounds, lyrics, poetry, a turn of phrase. I’m not entirely sure of the implications. Is it a good thing we take comfort in our range of words and hence how that distinctively shapes us? Or does it limit social mobility or create group think?
We have also found words can light up the motor networks in our brain potentially suggesting language, perception and action interact and interplay via many of the same neural processes. This underpins why words can affect physiological reactions but also explains how words slip their influence into the way we interact physically with the real world. But research into words and the brain is tricky. There are words where we can deduce their meaning from the physical properties we are observing. But many words have no such basis and so the relationship between what we see or do and its meaning is arbitrary; it is set by societal norms. Colour supports this idea well. For example the sound of the word we use in suggesting the colour red. As a word its association to the properties of light is not obvious.
There are so many interesting avenues to explore when we think widely about words and the brain (including what actually is a word?) but I will just mention this direction for now. I have wondered why we find some words and languages more tuneful than others. I for one have wanted to learn Italian, not for it’s usefulness but because it sounds so melodious and energising. An article in The Guardian (UK) mentioned this could be governed by how we view the cultural status of a group of people or their country. A positive perception results in a more favourable attitude towards the language used. However there are certain sounds in a language which may sound unnatural or unfamiliar to our native ears and hence take the sheen off that vernacular. For English speakers, the more guttural sounds of German can be perceived as harsh, hence German words are not deemed as attractive. Our individual perception of the value of a language offers additional dimensions such as a consideration as to how mobile a language is or the economic worth it may bestow upon us. For example the increased interest in learning Mandarin this century has been linked to the rise in economic might of China.
Tom Lomas has written a book called ‘Translating happiness’ based on the Happy words project. He has amassed nearly 1000 directly untranslatable words (into the English language) from languages from around the world. These expressions ‘crystalize a hazy sentiment’ noted time.com. And it is true. There is something deeply satisfying reading through the particular descriptions because it is almost as if these words have grasped and metamorphosed a fleeting emotion into something resonant. Or as Virginia Woolf would put it — ‘enslaved the intuitive’. I enjoy these emotions revealed transcend who we are or where we are from; they are universal sensations. Let me give you a flavour of the charm you will find from his project:
Montivagant is a word for ‘wandering over mountains or hills’.
Chrysalism, defined as ‘the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm’.
The Danish Morgenfrisk, describes the ‘satisfaction one gets from a good night’s sleep’.
The Latin Otium, highlights ‘the joy of being in control of one’s own time’.
Queesting which is Dutch and is ‘to allow a lover access to one’s bed for chitchat’.
Forelsket describes ‘the euphoria experienced as you begin to fall in love’.
Trepverter, ‘a witty riposte you think of only when it is too late to use’.
Gurfa is ‘the amount of water that can be held in a hand’.
Ilunga is a Congolese word meaning ‘being ready to forgive a first time, tolerate a second time, but never a third time’.
Cost centre 3 is badly dyslexic, as is my husband which is not in itself an issue. When harnessed right it will be her super power. My husband has learnt coping mechanisms but she is still learning. My fear is this difficulty pushes her away from words and their beauty because it is so much harder for her to appreciate their nuances. I hope not. But then again, at least she won’t be unfaithful to her other half as I’ve been…..