October 17, 1997
Words have a fascination for me that I can hardly explain. They can be cool, or they can be hot. They are the tools and the raw material of my chosen vocation. The building blocks, the framework that provides a basis for transmission of information. They are the fundamental instruments of all communication, and a great deal more. They give us lyrical literature, passionate prose and soul-searing sermons.
They can be beautiful or cruel, sometimes simultaneously. How do we know the difference? We explain them, define them, with -- other words! They can suggest images of glorious, splendid vistas, or nightmarish visions of unspeakable horror. The genesis of their origin offers the possibility of a lifetime of research in which serendipitous treasures most certainly will turn up. It's more than a hobby. It's an engrossing, driven pursuit that I hope never ends.
They are the main dish on my plate at every meal. I marvel at the multiplicity of their complexity, and I revel in their ability to transport my mind to exotic places that my eyes have never beheld.
But along with all that comes this compulsive and unyielding desire to see to it that words are used only correctly in any context, never inappropriately, never misspelled. It's a protective thing, a small shield held up to ward off the inadvertent or advertent corruption of our mother tongue and its numerous derivations. I see myself cast in the role of a Defender of the Faith, not a pseudo-snob. I make no pretense at personal perfection, or even competence. My family can testify that I am guilty of marking on magazines, books, second-class mail material -- anything bearing words -- whenever a slipup is detected. The products from my computer keyboard do not escape this scrutiny and the glitch are found there too, believe me. Each such, when spotted, is corrected and filed in some cranial depository for future reference.
Words bestow knowledge and riches upon us at modest expense, primarily an investment of time. They will last forever if we just put them to use regularly and diligently add to the inventory. The latter step can sometimes be occasioned by weird incidents. How else do I explain those recent moments when my consciousness came up with these two beauties: "Perspicacity" and "insouciance"? They popped into my head from out of nowhere, triggered by who knows what, and although I had seen them in print, I had no clear understanding of their meaning. Webster's ever-present dictionary gave these abridged definitions: Insouciance = lighthearted unconcern; perspicacity = acute mental vision. On the heels of those two words came "persiflage" (frivolous bantering talk), again summoned from some mysterious cyberspace for reasons unknown. They were just THERE, as if flashed on a screen in my head. Now they roll easily from the tongue and I savor the addition of these words, my new friends, to the storehouse. I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to use them but I recognize they are not easily worked into conversation or my normal newspaper copy. If only my diminishing mental capacity can retain their meaning long enough to apply them to some practical task in the near future.
But discovering them, by whatever means, provides a shivery kind of thrill like the moment an archer's arrow finds the bulls eye, or when the Compleat Angler hooks that perfect specimen and hoists it, twisting on the line, from the brook. We become one with all those who have preceded us in such triumphant discoveries, and our mind goes reeling for a spell. Eureka! Bring us more, more and still more! I love them!