Word Hunger



The other night, discussing some random news item with my wife, I said, “It’s a profligate use of resources.” She said, “A what?” I said, “Profligate. Excessive. Wasteful. Extravagant.” She said, “Why didn’t you just say so?” I said, “Because that took three words, instead of one.” She said, “Yes, but ordinary people don’t talk that way.”

A few days later, I was talking about my group of writing friends. We have gone through a number of nicknames for ourselves, which I rely on, because I am always on the verge of telling Sabrina (my wife) something, and need a short-hand reference point to let her know who I am suddenly going on about. Our current moniker is The Flamingos – it’s a long story. Recently, I have become very close (long-distance) to Don, the husband of one of these writers and a writer himself. I mentioned to Sabrina that Don was like an honorary Flamingo, and said, “I need to come up with a sobriquet for him.” “A what?” “A sobriquet – a name.” “Why didn’t you just say that?”

Sigh.

This is one of the hazards of being a word person. I hunger for words, and hold them close when I find them. To be able to have exactly the right word for the situation, to express the perfect emotion/sentiment/description – this is the constant quest of the poet, the wordsmith. I am continually a scavenger hunt for words.

Don recently introduced me to “gurungurang” – a Melanesian pidgin word, it means bedlam, drama or commotion. Try saying it just once, and you’ll fall in love with the sound. And I soon became convinced I couldn’t survive without it. I live in a house with three dogs and seven cats running in and out. At feeding time, I can now say, “Enough of this gurungurang! Everybody calm down. I’m getting dinner as fast as I can!” Believe me, I now use this wonderful word on almost a daily basis.

My friend Sandra gave me the two ends of the emotional spectrum: “benison” for blessing, and “sorg” (Old English) and “zorg” (Dutch), both meaning sorrow. The sounds themselves carry the feelings through the body.

And, I must confess, although Sabrina is perpetually shaking her head over my dictionary words, I have learned a number of terms from her. When a lamp stops working, she is the kind of person who buys parts and rewires it, or replaces the switch. I am the type of person who buys a new lamp. So from her, I have been introduced to terms mechanical and botanical: hose bib, root ball, cofferdam, gasket (which I had heard, but didn’t actually know what it was).

The difference is, I repeat the words for their sound – and try to figure out how I can insert them into a poem. Still haven’t managed to come up with a way to use cofferdam…

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