Dear Gentle Reader,
Regular visitors know that I love words, especially less usual ones, such as words which vary over time, in either spelling or meaning.
I also, however, recognize that words are not the be all and end all, despite the intellectual traditional I stem from. Today, a little stroll to illustrate these thoughts. A stroll amidst words.
Just as fried eggs can be served sunny side up or sunny side down I like the fact that we can lie prone, face down, or supine, face up--and I aim to ensure that we don't only use those words while getting a massage or performing an autopsy.
(Aside: I have great autopsy stories from when I was kid--which might explain a lot... Also, for those interested, there are many, many other ways that fried eggs can be served if you come from an exacting, exhaustive culinary tradition--like the French do... maybe another post, one day.)
Andrew Marvell's poem "The Character of Holland", which I reproduced last Friday, was written in the seventeenth century and is a veritable cornucopia of lovely words (nouns, verbs, adjectives and more!), most with archaic spellings.
Ambergreece, for example, and from the poem, is an archaic spelling of ambergris.
Ambergris, of course, is frightfully expensive; it's whale vomit that has floated on the ocean's surface for a few years to age and rot a bit; ambergris has no value when it is a fresh, floating slick.
Sailors lucky enough to find and collect ambergris can retire happy; they'll be richly scented with eau de cash.
Ambergris, as you know, is used as a binding, fragrant base note for the finest perfumes.
It's a perfect Taoist substance, really; ambergris is something vile and earthly (metaphorically, as physically it comes from a water bound leviathan) through which ethereal beauty is contained, transmuted, and then sprung free.
Anyway, as we know, I groove on words.
The mental pitter patter of words and meanings, dancing their tarantellas on my consciousness when I read or hear or write or speak, provides a syncopated rhythm of denoted and connoted meanings yielding a rich patina of both definitional meanings and allusional, contextual meanings.
Sometimes I find the joy and verve of words, themselves, alone, so great that I belt out extemporaneous songs, to my wife's varying amusement or chagrin, subject and location depending.
I like to think that we are all like this; I simply lack the ability to behave with propriety, sometimes.
And, I hold that intellectually, culturally, and traditionally, most of my readers come from a background which asserts the primacy of words.
In the Christian tradition we read in John 1:1 that:
εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον και θεος ην ο λογος
The key word here is λογος which would be translated into the Latin Vulgate bible as verbum, or word.
in principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum
The English translation of this phrase, from the Modern King James version, is:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God
The idea of "word", as opposed to "reason", representing both God and his Son, through the Christian revelatory experience, is fascinating in itself as a word choice in translation and comes, I think, from the Gnostic background of St. John the Evangelist, but this, somehow, became lost by the time of the Enlightenment.
Still, the primacy of the word itself, in the European academic and cultural tradition, had been set, especially in the Middle Ages when illiteracy was the encompassing norm.
The Moslem tradition includes the Christian tradition by virtue of the succession of prophets, and their texts, whilst none of my Hindu or Buddhist friends are slouchs when it comes to words.
Words, quite simply, are not the prerogatives of either the West or of Christianity.
Words, as vehicles for sharing meaning, have long been seen as important for all peoples; words are the basis of communication.
But, sometimes, I get given grief for my love of hefty or allegedly obsolete words.
Some folks think that I contribute to a loss of meaning by using 'non-standard' words.
I hear the point, but know that you, Gentle Reader, have an excellent vocabulary as well as access to a good dictionary, as I do, too.
And, I instantly apprehend and comprehend that words are not the be all and end all, despite John the Evangelist's first words, quoted above. John the Evangelist, after all, didn't stop at John 1:1; he had much more to say.
Further, sometimes, words are simply not to be relied on.
A case in point:
...and here is the paper which bears his name upon it, as well as mine.
This quote, you may recall, comes from British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, 30 September 1938, at Heston Aerodrome (outside of London, England) on his return from his meeting with Fuehrer and Chancellor (Reichskanzler) Herr Adolf Hitler at Munich (the signing of the Munich Agreement).
This, of course, was the agreement by which Prime Minister Chamberlain, would, later that same day, at his official residence, No. 10 Downing Street, declare to have secured, for Britain, "...peace with honour... ...peace in our time." ...and the year, once again, was 1938...
So, I recognize that sometimes words, or, more accurately, the meanings of words, cannot be trusted.
But, still, you gotta love them; what other choice do we have?
With that, I'll end the day here, resting up for three word Wednesday, in two days.
So, as I'm adding music these days... What song would go with today? Hmm...
Click to hear 'What I am' by Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians
Or, a tarantella...
Click to hear 'Tarentella Neapoli Tonum Phrygium/ D'aprés une basse obstinée de Buxtehude/ Ritornello Tarentella Neapoli/ Laetus sum. Psalmus 121' by Atrium Musicae De Madrid / Gregorio Paniagua, Musical Director
OR, another by François Couperin (1668-1733)