I got lost in the dictionary again today, submerged underneath the etymology and archaic definitions. It’s easy for me to do. I write partly because I love the sounds of words, the way they bounce around in my eardrums and roll down into my brain. I like to say them, to read them, to hear their rhythms as they tap dance down the page. I share them with my friends; I circle them in my books. I am a word geek, and like most fanatics I am obsessed with my own little sphere of the universe.
There are others. We are the writers, the editors, the readers. We are the low-paid geeks, studying the circuitry of language. We can tinker with a sentence until the syntax runs smoothly, humming along until each iamb falls neatly into place. We worship the language, and we are obsessed with its parts. What a language it is! It babbles down the brook of my brain–one word leads to the next, and I am off on a jazz riff through the vocabulary: Excoriate. Indigenous. Asphalt. Marmalade. Piles of pinkish purple plasticene pillows. Elephantiasis. Negotiation. Abbreviation. Antithesis. A plethora of plagiarizing pencil pushers. Lobotomy. Lemonade. Antidisestablishmentarianism. I might not be able to stop. I’m not sure I want to. Last night I looked up a fine point of grammar for fun.
Are you enjoying this little essay? Maybe just a little? That’s one of the warning signs. After all, you’re reading this right now—voluntarily—and you’ve probably read something else today. The joy of words is contagious. I caught it from Ferlinghetti, from Nabokov, from Tolkien. My dad read me the rhymes of Robert Service when I was young, and the music of language was colonizing my bloodstream even as Sam McGee froze to death in the stanzas. Raymond Chandler has turned the ear of even tough guys. I advise you to take precautions. Next time you open up the dictionary leave a trail of breadcrumbs. Alert someone to hunt you down if you don’t emerge from Shakespeare. If it is already too late, join our little cult. The word geeks will be happy to have you.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
17. Read something—anything. Better yet, write something. Play with the words and see what you get. Remember, this is play time—there are no rules and you are allowed to make a mess. Have fun.