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Words, wordage, wordsmith...
...for Knots in the String.
I’ve just finished listening to The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams.
The scriptorium, the slips, the old trunk, the intense search for the provenance of words within the English language – it made me reflect on my love of the word, of etymology.
Is it so simple, as Williams says in her narrative, that ‘Words are our tools of resurrection.’?
We need words to communicate thoughts and feelings so yes, in my opinion, it’s the resurrection of spirit and soul. The history and culture of our world is built on word – the moment our long-time ancestors opened their mouths and uttered sounds, the moment a rune or symbol was scratched, the world was able to resurrect itself with each succeeding generation. It’s a fantastic thought! Bigger than the OED can ever be.
Words gave me life, they gave me identity. I spoke, I was taught to read and from then on, I vanished into the wardrobe of adventure, discovering more and more words in my literary Narnia.
But my identity, the one I like the best, began to form the day I wrote the words:
‘My name is Adelina.
I am an embroiderer…’ The Stumpwork Robe (2008)
With those 8 words, I became something I had never thought possible. I became a creative, an artist … my medium was the word.
Once in a not-too-far past, I had begun to read the intricate language and narrative of Cecilia Dart Thornton’s The Ill Made Mute, Book One of The Bitterbynde Saga. I had been an avid reader all my life, had studied English Literature at university and yet here were almost-familiar words I could not catch to define. Words like lambrequin, tenebrous, fumarole, sidereal, bosky, crepitated, serpiginous. They flittered past me like butterflies glancing off dandelions and it wasn’t enough to marvel at them and then walk away.
So I jotted them down, all 100, and pootled into our State Reference Library.
I sat with the OED on a desk (the book and its fascicles about which The Dictionary of Lost Words swirls) and in alphabetical order, found the meanings of all 100.
Every word glittered and spoke to me of possibility, and even now that immense notion of discovery is as bright as the day it happened.
My parents gave me a Concise OED when I was in my first year of university. But funnily, it was never as important to me as Roget’s Thesaurus. So that when I began writing fiction seriously, it was Roget’s which sat by my side. I purchased a new edition a few years ago, but the old Roget’s had to stay because it represented so much of my creative journey.
My fondness for words is why I love writing (be it novels or Substack), because words flutter from their cerebral pigeonholes spontaneously. Sometimes the wrong ones, and I delve into Roget’s, but there’s a process happening.
It’s a wondrous thing…
Kindle: Rhys Bowen’s The Venice Sketchbook. As I said last week, a gentle book and what I need right now as health issues don’t just ripple but crash like mighty waves through our family.
Print: The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig. It’s an astonishing, if small book of almost lost words. If you are a lexophile/logophile, then I recommend this for your collection.
Audio: The Bookbinder of Jericho by Pip Williams. It has a familiar feel, with mentions of characters from Lost Words. I like that; I can still have contact with friends I’ve grown to love. Williams is such a talented and sensitive word-spinner. I think I might be quite a fan.
Periodical: Australian Country Style for August. It’s almost entirely devoted to Tasmanian living – to those who live outside the urban crush, amongst trees and by the sea. Those who live off the country, the land, the ocean.
On pages 118-121 our old family home, Millingtons House, is featured. It never ceases to fill me with joy when I see the house so beautifully portrayed, knowing that my grandfather built the home with an eye to light and view, creating such perfect bones, and that my mother and father redesigned the garden so that in its day, it was filled with trees, flowering shrubs, and swathes of lawn stretching right back into other blocks. And that my brother and my son built the black oiled-board sheds that now shield the rear garden from the public eye.
The house has 100 years of our family deep within those bones. There were birthdays, Christmases, too many holidays to count, births to celebrate and even wakes to commemorate – many things were said over the 100 years, many games of scrabble were played, many books read so that even within the walls of that house, words will always whisper like ghosts of time past.
Sandy Toskvig’s Extraordinary Escapes. Iconic houses, fascinating people with stories to tell.
Grand Designs New Zealand because we love NZ and think the settings and houses are stunning.
Robson Green’s Weekend Escapes. Again, interesting folk and beautiful places in the north of England.
Monty Don’s Adriatic Gardens. We are in heaven…
Chris and Danya’s Outdoors Adventure Travel on Youtube, mostly their NZ walks because we find NZ a paradise.
There seems to be a theme appearing in our viewing…
*Most importantly though, I was the cake maker for my grandson’s 5th birthday. I had a brief from ‘he who must be obeyed’ and when I realised it needed green grass icing, I shivered because whilst I love cake-making, cake-decorating is an artform that’s passed me by well and truly.
So the cake was made (a Never Fail Chocolate Ricotta Cake), the vanilla icing was mixed in a shiny dish, ready for the bottle of green food dye which stood on the bench like some magic potion. I needed to add an infinitesimal amount, to judge it carefully, meticulous in my measuring.
But I had no dropper.
We went through the First Aid kit and found an ancient plastic measuring syringe which we threw away, as our grandson deserved better. Then we looked at each other, husband and self. Bingo! There on the pantry shelf stood the new, unopened bottle of The Terrier’s CBD Oil with its glass dropper.
TBH, we fell about laughing as we thought of grandson and friends in a hazy daze, really enjoying Nanny’s cake!
Long story short – we washed the dropper, washed and washed until it literally squeaked, and I measured the green into the icing, drop by careful drop. But we decided not to tell the parents until we knew the kids were only high on excitement and not CBD Oil.
All was well, the kids were excitedly normal, and our son laughed as much as we did when we told him.
I watched my little grandson happily playing with his two best friends on his birthday and I wondered if there was space in etymology for the word ‘lellow’ because it’s such an important part of my lexicon. I don’t want it to be lost.
I checked the Thesaurus, the binding creaking as I flipped through pages until I reached the L’s. I ran my finger down the columns until I found leitmotif but then the next word was lemon. In the Concise OED it jumped from lekka to leman. No ‘lellow’. The pages echoed with a bittersweet emptiness. I’d like to check the unabridged OED just to make sure but it requires a trip to the University or the Reference Library and I don’t have the time just now.
When one googles ‘lellow’, it’s obvious it’s been used by many young children before my grandson, and with that in mind, I do feel it deserves a space in the OED – its own little slip with provenance from children through the ages because…‘The Dictionary, like the English language, is a work in progress.’
This quote was in the Author’s Notes of The Dictionary of Lost Words, and I pulled to the side of the road and wrote it down as the audiobook finished. It’s such a vivid and vital comment on everything that comes from our minds.
Thus, my song this week is a little bit apposite. Insert OED for Webster if you wish…