Panoply of Words

First of all, I love the sound of this word.  Somehow it reminds me of a patchwork quilt: it’s irregular and orderly at the same time.  Since I started learning English, I was always amazed by how different this language is from my native tongue – Russian.

Russian is a very flexible language.  Every word can be changed and, with the help of prefixes and suffixes, become almost unrecognizable.  The sentences don’t have a rigid date-linguistword order.  Theoretically speaking, it helps if a subject goes before the verb, but it’s not required.  You can change a declarative sentence into interrogative by simply putting a question mark at the end – no need for doing anything more than that.  The amount of word variations is almost indefinite: we have an extraordinary amount of derivative suffixes at our disposal, and our kids’ names go through the stages, much like the kids themselves.

For example, take my son’s name: Michael.  Ordinary, simple and internationally recognizable.  Nobody has any trouble pronouncing it in any language.  Over the course of his short life his name went through the following transformations: Mishanya, Masyusya, Mishanechka, Mishan’ka, Mus’ka, Mas’ka, Myshonok, Mishushonok, Mishechka, Mishulya, Mishka, Mikey and Mike (this, of course, being an american influence).  Believe it or not, I probably missed a few…  Some of the excessively sibilant ones drew firm reprimands from my husband, who was complaining that I was diminishing my son’s male essence by using these names, but, being in the grip of irreverent motherly love, I paid no attention to that.  My son is 14 now and is as much a man as someone who never heard funny variations of his manly name.  Now do you see what I mean?  All of these derivatives of one of the most common name in the world are possible in Russian.  Every relative can pick and use whatever version they want – it’s still the same name.  Only your imagination can limit you in creation of new variations of your beloved child’s moniker.

When I just started studying English, I was a little put out by its syntactic restrictions and its inadequate supply of derivatives (or so I thought at the time).  But with time I understood that whatever English might be missing in terms of word creation, it more than compensates by word abundance.  There are so many strange and beautiful sounding words in English, that my nerdy heart skips a bit every time I encounter one of them.  The way words are formed in English is also different from Russian, but now I find it exciting and imaginative.  21 years later I finally made my peace with English and now am using it as my primary writing language, although I know that it’s still far from being perfect.

linguistic-relativity-thesisOn my precious iPhone I keep a running list of my favorite words.  In order to make it to my list the word has to be uncommon and beautifully formed.  I don’t know how to explain how I can tell that the word is beautiful, though.  I guess it’s all about the balance of the parts of the word, the letters used to represent it and the meaning it conveys.  I have a perfunctory knowledge of Latin, courtesy of Lviv State University, where I studied a lifetime ago, so sometimes I can guess the meaning of the word by recognizing its Latin root. However, even if the word is coming from a different language, occasionally I can discern what it means just by the way it sounds.

In a way, my obsession with the words reminds me of the beginning chapter in Umberto Eco’s book ‘Baudolino’, of which I am not the biggest fan, but this is as close as I can get to explaining what the connection of the word, sound and meaning means to me.  In the first chapter of that book the main character, Baudolino, is trying to invent written language.  And he is boldly trying to capture on paper what he sees in this mind’s eye, reconcile it with what he feels in his heart, and make it permanent by writing it down.

Every time I see a word like ‘Excrescence’ or ‘Absquatulate’, I can envision the long Blogger's Block: 'I'm all nouned out.'journey it had to make in people’s minds in order for me to be able to read and enjoy it.  To me, the words have personalities, just as humans do.  For instance, ‘wheedle’ is playful and light, but ‘virago’ is heavy and unyielding; ‘puissant’ definitely has a chip on its shoulder, and ‘invidious’ is sneaky and secretive; it’s obvious to me that ‘salubrious’ and ‘lugubrious’ are at odds with each other, and ‘prolixity’ is a sin I personally suffer from.

What more can I say?  I am a nerd and proud of it!

Panoply

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