Free-Range Words (Warning: Some Are Naughty)

Elope. Noodle. Trillionth. Mud. Surreptitious. Alabaster. Freeze.

Nope, no pattern. Well, except that all of those, and everything else you have read or said today, are words. That’s all. And that’s everything. I don’t mean to wax revolting, but communication, human culture, past, present, future: words words words everything depends upon words.

Here’s where I do the thing I have always told my students never to do: I’m about to quote the dictionary. Ready? Here we go:

Definition of WORD

(1) : a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning usually without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use(2) : the entire set of linguistic forms produced by combining a single base with various inflectional elements without change in the part of speech elements(1) : a written or printed character or combination of characters representing a spoken word.

OR, and here’s my preferred definition, something I say (or write) that you understand.

For example: at my house, there are some children. Occasionally, these children do not want to do a thing (usually a thing requested by their mother. Their father seems to have better luck. This is irritating.) And when these children do not want to do a thing, they suddenly lose all structural integrity and blob to the floor. “Oh, no!” I say. “They’ve got The Puddinbone!”

How these children originally developed this dread disease I do not recall. But I no longer have to say: “Oh, no! The children do not wish to do as I have asked, therefore they have lost all structural integrity and blobbed to the floor!” I just say “The Puddinbone” and, because everyone knows what I’m talking about when I say it, Puddinbone* is now a word. As is, by the way, “blob” as a verb. (See what I did there?)

That’s all. Sounds or symbols that convey meaning. And all words are that, entirely that, and only that.

So our segregation of words as being more or less appropriate in certain situations is shaky at best. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want anyone to start yelling naughty words at the afore-mentioned puddinboned children. Some things make cultural sense beyond simple logic and that’s that.

(But fair warning, I’m going to use a few of those words in a minute.)

I’m talking about words like “yes” and “no.” Like “good” and “bad.” Simple and straightforward words that rarely show up when we really need them. We mostly get kind of a runaround; we very often see words purposely arranged in such a way as to avoid conveying any meaning at all.

Are they still words at that point?

On a more practical level, wouldn’t it be great if words could just roam free across the plains, flit and flutter around the world conveying meaning in the most direct ways? If there were no such thing as being blunt, brusque, or flat-out rude? If a statement made simply and honestly in the clearest language possible were prized as the hallmark of excellence in writing?

Language like this: “Till I Die is a catastrophic, misogynistic shit of a song.”

I’ll admit, “catastrophic” and “mysoginistic” are big long words. But I’d argue that using a word whose definition expresses your entire point in one go really is simplicity in action. Your opinion may differ, but there is no way that anyone can argue with “shit”. As the most straightforward method of conveying the idea that the song is a) a waste product offering no benefit, b) offensive to the senses, and c) the one and only thing an asshole can produce… well. “Shit” wins.

That quote is from a beautiful piece of writing. A bold, fearless unequivocal piece of writing, full of free-range words that convey the author’s personal opinion with utter clarity. Words like “repugnant.” And “disgusting.” And “clusterfuck.”

Ladies and gentlemen. I bring you Chris Havercroft’s review of Chris Brown’s album, Fortune.

*Just did a quick Google search and found independent instances of “Puddinbone,” so it may not be original to me. But I own http://www.puddinbone.com. If that doesn’t make it mine, I don’t know what does.

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1 Comment

Filed under DfW Holds Forth!, Nerd Candy, The Power of Language

One response to “Free-Range Words (Warning: Some Are Naughty)

  1. And here I thought you were gunnin’ for me after my “walla” wailing over the weekend. Whew. (You totes own “puddinbone” via that domain name. Don’t let anyone say you nay.)

    A brilliant piece of writing, I agree–all the moreso because of the very juxtapositions of million-dollar words and vernacular terms.

    I love that shit.

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