20 November 2013
I have a habit of collecting words and phrases. Mostly because I love language, and thinking about the meaning of words. Sometimes they make their way to my poems, but that’s just a by-product, I think.
Here are some (excerpts of) lists I have; favourites, all:
- bound: heading to a destination, or restrained from movement
- dust: to add fine particles, or to remove them
- left: remained, or departed
- skin: to cover, or to remove
- temper: to soften, or to strengthen
- wear: to endure, or to deteriorate
- c’est la vie (that’s life; that’s how things happen)
- folie de grandeur (delusion of greatness)
- peu a peu (little by little)
- sunt lacrimae rerum (there are tears for things)
- vita brevis (life is short)
- voila tout (that’s all)
When I was reading The Count of Monte Cristo, I made a list of some words I liked:
- augury, n. a sign of what will happen in the future; an omen
- irresolutely, adv. showing or feeling hesitancy; uncertain
- entreat, v. to ask someone earnestly or anxiously to do something
- august, adj. respected and impressive
- sagacious, adj. having or showing keen mental discernment and good judgment; shrewd
- chimera, n. a thing that is hoped or wished for but in fact is illusory or impossible to achieve
- alone together
- calculated risk
- found missing
- never again
- paper towel
- top floor
I am also interested in how the meaning of words change if you change a letter, add a letter, or even rearranged the letters. I guess there is something about the proximity of the words to each other that fascinates me, and I would like to explore them more in the future. For example: raped versus reaped, or being versus begin.
Lastly, how one word can mean two different things in different languages even if they’re spelled in the same way: away in English means at a distance, or out of existence. But in Filipino, away means a fight.
Speaking of Stephen Dunn, he has a project of pairing words in his book, Riffs and Reciprocities: Prose Pairs. One of my favourites is Technology/Memory:
Maybe we’ve always been transported by what we can’t explain. But if the world were almost destroyed and only a few of us remained, who could reinvent the telephone, no less the radio or the car? I’d be a man with hopes for a farm. I turn the television on, and there’s Baghdad, and there’s a missile and a rationale. I could be in a cave watching the Northern Lights—it’s all so out of my control. I watch a laser repair a heart. I look in at my daughter before she’s born. There used to be a gulf between empiricism and faith. Now an e-mail message arrives on my turned-off machine. Somebody who lives in cyberspace—where my mother never roamed—could say how. Normal: the most malleable word our century has known. The light bulb changed the evening. The car invented the motel.
A kind of achievement, William Carlos Williams said. Or a curse, said the man who couldn’t get the phone book out of his head. Speak, Nabokov asked of his. Which it tends to, if we invoke it often enough. Imagination is its most important friend, selecting, coloring, casting aside. Without imagination, an endlessness, like my colleague’s story of his summer by the lake when he listed birds and his wife was tortured by a lingering cold; he told me so much I didn’t know what I’d been told. More and more I forget what I need, and remember what I’d like to forget. And sometimes I keep talking, keep recalling, as a way of not saying what I feel. Memory’s law: what we choose to say about our past becomes our past. That other past, the one we’ve lived, exists in pieces that flicker and grow dim. I can buy a memory in a store called Circuit City. I can press search, and find a fact, a person, but not what I’ve most dearly lost. Every time I save I exclude.
— Stephen Dunn, from Riffs and Reciprocities: Prose Pairs
I like thinking about the premise of technology as a signifier of what is a ‘modern’ civilisation, how it makes our lives easier and faster, but also inadvertently makes us dependent upon it. There is also the idea that our society risks being crippled in the future, if suddenly we are forced to move forward without it (for example, natural disasters or phenomena that would wipe out our machines).
When I read this I was also thinking about how technology is more objective than memory. But since we are still the ones who control the gadgets we own, we can choose what to save, what to store, what to engage with, which objects to imprint ourselves upon. But is that enough, I wonder? How far do you think we will go to preserve our memories?