During my last semester as an undergraduate student, a number of my friends and I took our final “core curriculum” course. A strange sort of hybrid designed to prepare us to be thrust out in to the real world, “Kingdom Life” required readings from marriage books, books on finances, and on healthy living. Most of what happened in class, however, seemed to be useless debates between various students, challenging one another on I-don’t-remember-what and arguing ad infinitum. I didn’t join in the arguments, and — here’s my confession — I often zoned them out. Instead of arguing, I sat and made columns of words on my notebook pages. Words willy-nilly as they came into my head. Words I liked, words that caught my ears, words simple, and words strange. I typically made three columns of words down one notebook page.
Then, the real fun began; on a new notebook page, I took the words in rows and crafted sentences around them. It didn’t matter how incongruous the words were; I wrapped them into sentences, taking delight in the absurdity of some, and the sudden appropriateness of others. Sometimes, I tried to combine more than one row at a time, trying to make a larger coherence.
Later, I typed all those sentences into one document, which I still possess. Here are some samplings: “The grief of spoons is in the air.” “Apathy is the fructification of vicissitude.” “Pride chewed dynamite with a martian that was sodden, but jovial.”
The sentences led me into a larger project — more on that, maybe, in a different post — but my main point, now, is the way that words in combination work. The way they want to be made sense of. Scientists can show us that we are hard-wired for language — indeed, they can now show us that our hard-wiring itself, our DNA, works like language — and we are rarely content to let words just be words.
If you’ve ever played with one of those magnetic poetry sets — the little rearrange-able word-magnets — you know about this. Those, at least, generally come with some theme or other. But cut all the words out of a dictionary, shake them up, pull out a handful. As you read them, you’ll be looking for connections. Where do the words meet? Where do they make sense together? (I’ve seen this happen, too, with the words people “win” playing the game Apples to Apples.)
Our tendency — something more than a learned habit — is to fight against the assumption of randomness. We look for meaning. We’re not content to assume that this word and that word are only accidentally together. We want them to belong together, to be on purpose, and, very often, we want them to mean more than they seem to mean on the surface.
This week of Word-Wonder is a celebration and exploration of words in combination, of this capacity of ours to make larger meanings from the combination of small ones, and, mostly, of sentences.
©2013 by Stacy Nott