. . . otherwise entitled “words, words, words.”
Urania and I were recently discussing Shakespeare’s way with words. He can take an adjective and turn it into a verb. He can make up words, change their use, shift their paradigms . . . He can juxtapose images and phrases in such a way that you see, feel, taste, know, exactly what he means.
Shakespeare makes his words mean exactly what he wants them to mean.
In some ways, he is surprisingly similar to Lewis Carroll’s Humpty-Dumpty.
‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘
‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them — particularly verbs: they’re the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs — however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’
‘Would you tell me please,’ said Alice, ‘what that means?’
‘Now you talk like a reasonable child,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. ‘I meant by “impenetrability” that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.’
‘That’s a great deal to make one word mean,’ Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘I always pay it extra.’
Strangely, few people seem to use word like this these day, much less offer to pay them extra. We have no master word-artist like Shakespeare, nor word-smith like Carroll.
Possibly because editors and dictionaries will not let us get away with such liberties.
Did you know that words can be rejected? The Oxford English Dictionary keeps a vault of about fifty cabinets – tightly packed – of words that are “not deemed suitable for print in a dictionary”.
Some of these “non-words” even date back to the time when Tolkien worked on the OED.
Alas! The poor, abandoned words!
These include jewels like:
Noun: a watermark left by a glass of liquid.
Noun: catchy tune that frequently stays in the mind.
Verb: To feel around in a pocket for a coin or key.
Verb: to dance done by the pedestrians do in the street when they both move in the same direction to avoid bumping into each other.
Noun: the act of polkadodging.
Verb: to move faster than a jog but slower than a sprint.
May I suggest that we comfort these sweet little words by occasionally remembering to use them?
Lewis Carroll gave birth to many words, that sprang forth fully armored from his heat-opressed brain. Shakespeare plied language to summon imaginative sympathy.
Words are meant to live freely! To have their range of sound, meanings, and association explored!
Some people love words and delight in unearthing the deep etymology of the them. For instance, Terpsichore’s beloved Inky Fool.
Some people want to preserve words, like the “Save The Words“.
But words must be savored, teased, shaken, and enjoyed!
Therefore, I hereby commence the campaign to play with words.
Go ye forth, and use your language with delight. As Shakespeare says, “Joy’s soul lies in the doing.”