Thursday, April 18, 2013

What's In A Word?

Yesterday, I had an epiphany. At least I think that's what it was. I had one once, long ago, and it had a profound impact on the way I viewed my world. Back then, I was working in a jewelry store. I was trying to keep busy on a slow day, and decided to polish the geodes of amethyst and such until they glistened. I really wanted those suckers to sell.

I was thinking about the nice money we could make by just selling one or two. Trusting in the power of thought, I envisioned myself wrapping up a freshly polished geode and handing it to a customer who, in turn, handed me some good old American greenbacks.

That's when it hit me... what I was actually doing for a living. I was polishing a geode taken from the ground. If I made it look all sparkly enough, somebody was going to come in off the street and hand me a predetermined bunch of green pulp so they could take it home. In short, my efforts and magical concentration were focused on exchanging a rock for parts of dead trees.

Rock for trees. (I can't believe I found a graphic for this!)
My job depended on this. I was to make the rock look pretty so I could get dead trees for it. If I did a good job of selling rocks for trees, by week's end I, too, could have some green pulp... predetermined. Why? Because somebody else, long ago, decided that these things had value. The scales fell from my eyes. That's when I knew: I may have to abide by this arbitrary exchange of “work” or “rarity” for “money”, but I did not have to be deceived by it. I never looked at money or tangible things the same way again. Yes, I went on earning it and spending it on other sparkly things, but I knew from that moment forward it was just a game that had nothing to do with human survival, development or happiness.

So, I think I know an epiphany when I see one... which leads me to the other day. I have to hide from Rufus if I want to read. (No, that's not the epiphany. It's only a sad truth.) If I want a few minutes with my book, I have to stow it in my basket on my knee walker and sneak it into the bathroom. Usually, I'm found out – and Rufus then pees a contemptible pee in my hallway – but sometimes he's asleep. He doesn't see me leave the living room. And so it was when I sneaked Raymond Khoury's “The Last Templar” into the loo. Yes, I had read it before, but it was a while ago. I wanted a refresher before I read his follow-up books.

I was happily sitting there, reading along, when I noticed his use of the word “rapacious”. (I also noticed he uses the word “Stygian” all over the place. Must everything in his world be THAT dark?) I started to think: Why did he use “rapacious”? What was wrong with “greedy”? Does rapacious denote a degree of greedy of which I'm unaware? So, I looked it up and found that it is defined by “greedy” - yes – but also “extortionate”, “ravenous”, as well as “edacious”. Well, OK, but now are we still talking about greedy people, greedy hungry people, or greedy hungry people who extort others? Huh?

And that's when the epiphany hit. Defining words with other words is a bit like playing the game “telephone” while running in a hamster wheel. Hell, we even have a word to describe the fact that there are no words to describe a fact. (“Ineffable”, in case you were scratching your head.)

As an author, I must – by logical deduction – be a word smith. It is my blessing/curse to be able to express thought with clarity and relate my tales with vibrancy. Yet, how often have I seen writers throw in every conceivable synonym to window dress their creation. Make the article or book sparkly enough and perhaps you'll be able to sign a dead tree with an agent or publisher, and thereby earn some green pulp.

This is not a criticism of Raymond Khoury; far from it. I enjoy his writing. His just happened to be the book I had in hand. However, after sitting home for a year, I have utilized the library ladies and their home bound services to the max, and I have slogged me through some mighty ponderous tomes. If you write, even so much as a diary (or – hey! - a blog) focus on capturing the thought, the moment, the sense and feel of a setting – not every word in the Funk & Wagnalls! (BTW: Funk and Wagnalls no longer exists. See? All those words didn't help them either!)

Gone but not forgotten.

Until next time, use your words (just not all at once).


  1. Ooooh Kat, I have a Funk and Wagnall's Standard College Dictionary in hardcover from 1974 and I love it because it tells you the origin of the words. I asked for it for my 18th birthday.

    Some women ask for clothes and jewels for their birthdays, and some women ask for dictionaries. Can we start a club do you think?

    1. Sure! I'd love to call it the Sisterhood of the Word, but that sounds quasi-religious. So does Word Warriors. Humm. Dictionary Divas is rather pedestrian. OMG, I've got it! THE LEXI CONFLUENCE. Get it? Lexicon, confluence...look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls!!!