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My Love of Words

In seventh grade I learned a trick for translating French into English.  It was this: if you change the é at the beginning of a word into an s, sometimes a cognate will emerge.  I did this with all the French I knew – école, état, élève – and became very surprised when sleve popped out of éleve.  Sleve looked strangely like slave; it seemed odd that the word for pupil should be connected with the word for a bound servant.  I eventually found that it had nothing to do with slaves; instead it was connected to the french word élever (to raise) – but it sparked a desire in me to learn more about all words.  I made connections with other words I knew: dormir – to sleep – to be dormant; and mourir – to die – like to murder and to mourn.  That’s how my fascination with words started.

It was easier to learn French after I discovered its parallels to English.  Not all the connections I think of are necessarily the “true” root connections you would find in a dictionary, but they’re the ones that my mind makes when it analyzes words.  When I read I think about the way words look and how they feel.  The way a word makes me feel has an impact on the way I use it.

And sometimes – sometimes, I just love a word.  Undulating, purple, wicked, smooth, scintillating – how can anyone see or hear words like these and not want to jump into the page and dance with them?  These are the kinds of words that hit you and you remember.  To me, words have a feeling – they can be harsh or smooth, slippery or firm, sharp or dull.  As a ninth grader I was assigned weekly vocabulary.  I’d look up the roots as well as the definitions.  One week my word was undulating – waves and water.  Another week it was sanguine – blood.  I remember what they mean because of the way they look and sound and because I think about their history – not because I wrote down their definitions on scraps of paper four years ago.

When I read, words jump at me if I recognize their roots.  But in general, words don’t like me as much as I like them.  I’m not a person who is good with rhetoric or eloquence.  I love to write – but I’m not articulate, no matter how hard I try.  Math is my best subject because the answers are clear and easy to understand.  In writing, there are too many options to choose from.  I can tell which sentence structure sounds the best after it’s written, but I can’t write the sentence to begin with.  By breaking down words the way I do, I think I’m trying to turn language into formulas and equations.  That’s just the way my brain works.  I study other languages to explore the ways different people have experimented with words.

The way language curves and flows around us continually has various effects on people.  Some pick up an ability to write well, some can memorize vocabulary, and some of us dig into etymological dictionaries like children searching for buried treasure.  My attraction to words is different than an attraction to writing and manipulating language gracefully, but it’s enjoyable for me, so I’m staying with it.  Maybe someday words will start to love me back.


2 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    maggie!!!

    I absolutely adore this new blog..you have your first dedicated reader!

    I love the way words ( and anything really) makes me feel…

    I’m off to go read more!

  2. 2

    I LOVE your new blog concept!!!



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