Monday, September 15, 2014

Words as Food

Long before I lost my physical sense of taste, I fortunately had developed a “taste” for words—their flavor, their texture, the pleasurable sensations they elicited in me. I delight in and savor them. According to my mother, the first word I ever spoke, other than “momma” or “da-da,” was “Constantinople.” How that might have come about, I have no idea, but “Constantinople” is a pretty big mouthful for a small boy. She probably misunderstood whatever it was I was trying to say, but it makes for a good story.

Just a few of the words that fascinate me? “Lugubrious”—the sound, if not the meaning (looking or sounding sad and dismal)—has always pleased me. It sounds heavy, like the verbal equivalent of, say, warmed over mutton stew. “Onomatopoeia”—any word, like “thud,” “bang,” “screech,” “boom,” and “juicy” in which its sound is also its definition—is like an exotic soup of infinite flavors. “Anti-disestablishmentarianism” is a word to impress by its sheer length if not its substance; rather like a classic popover: a confection of impressive size, but hollow.

As a rule, I enjoy multi-syllabic words. In the course of human conversation, and in the bulk of writing, words of more than four syllables are seldom heard/seen. “Tintinnabulation,” “genuflection,” “prestidigitation”…a lot of words ending in “tion” involve at least three syllables, which is probably why I enjoy them.

And there are words like “we,” which appears to be so common as to be flavorless, yet is in fact vital to our very existence as humans and gives life itself its flavor.

I delight in words to which we never give a moment’s thought…words which appear to be one thing but are indeed something far more complex. Among my favorites are the distress call “Mayday” which doesn’t really make much sense until you realize it is actually the French pronunciation of the words for “Help me”…m’aidez.

“Breakfast” literally means “break (the) fast” since the last meal of the previous day.

The true meaning of “President” becomes clear when the emphasis is switched from the first syllable to the the second: the President presides over the country.

The never-to-be-spoken racial epithet, “nigger” derived, in fact, in time from the too-rapid pronunciation of the word “Negro.”

Scientific words have always puzzled and somewhat annoyed me, especially the names given to medications—where in the world does “tioproprium” come from, or “corticosteroid” or “meloxicam,” or “pilocarpine” or “doxazosin”? I suspect they are for the most part totally made up so that the “common folk” can say “Ooooooooooooh” in a tone of reverent awe over the wonders of science.

The contemplation of words, their meanings, and the analogies that can be made from them provide endless fascination. Should you ever become bored, just open a dictionary.

To close with another brief reference to the “words as food” analogy, words are the ingredients which, blended together in a billion different combinations, create and provide the nourishment which fuels not only our individual lives, but our civilization. 

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (


Kage Alan said...

Speaking of words and your love for them, what is the current book project you're working on? I can't recall seeing anything on your page about it, but I also haven't been spending nearly as much time online as I have in the past.

Dorien Grey said...

Kage, I've been in a very strange place since returning from Europe...I haven't written a word on "Cameron's Eye" or done much else constructive. Hopefully, I'll pull myself together in the near future. Thanks for asking.