The Beauty of Every Word

This is an essay by Emi Howe.

Hello my name is Emi Howe and I am a wordaholic. The actual term for this is “Lexicographer” I know this recondite word, because it is esoteric to my addiction. Ok that’s enough.

I wear the same chestnut brown wingtip boots virtually every day of my life. I collect words in the way that some women collect shoes. I keep them safe in a fabric-bound book and alphabetise them. My Better Half jokes that eventually all I will have is another dictionary. But that’s not true. I only collect beautiful words: Dropsical, Lapidary, Bumptious, Truculent, Quixotic, Obsequious…

You wouldn’t know that I have this affliction. I talk in common words, knowing what people think of you when you go around peppering your vocab with such verbiage. I also constantly lose at Scrabble. I search for something more, there has got to be a better word… while Him Indoors puts “the” over a triple letter score. Game Over!

I collect my words from many places but in the main it is from books. You can imagine reading for me is not the relaxing pastime it might be for most. Pencil gripped, waiting with anticipation for something akin to a goal for football lovers. And I let books find me. I can be quite overwhelmed by the number of books out there that need reading, so this system works well for me.

Let me tell you about a couple of books that have reignited my reading passion of late. Let’s set the scene…

I am a mother of two young charges and in recent years, my reading quota has been replaced by sleep. However, emerging from the fog one day at the library I noticed that we could expect an author visit. The writer in question was Caroline Smailes and always eager to meet writers I set about reading her book. The only one left in the library was Black Boxes so off I went with it.

What I liked about this exercise is that I had a deadline, I needed to find time to squeeze the words from the pages into my consciousness before the visit, and this is where reading really comes to the fore. When a book starts to rule your life and makes a mockery of any to-do lists or responsibilities you may have. Of course the book needs to be quality, and it was. But what’s more is that I had inadvertently stumbled upon something quite new. The book is written largely as a single narrative, in effect a black box account of someone’s life.

Well that in itself is something to get excited about. I often think that words, language, books are so timeless. They are the one thing that through change, stays constant. They evolve; don’t get me wrong, I baulk on Facebook when I see “well jel”(abv. well jealous) replacing the more refined “truly coveted!”

But to succeed in doing something new and different with words, that’s an achievement. Something I hadn’t seen done since Darren King’s Boxy an Star in 1999 – written entirely in yoofspeak, it was astonishing, exciting and different. And “Black Boxes” beautiful words? Not just one, two… together: Bilabial Plosive. Score!

And so Black Boxes has kick-started me back into my reading world and the train only seems to be increasing in speed. Next I navigated towards The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

This I found in a magazine and immediately ripped the page out for safe-keeping. I was pulled in by the review’s almost tabloid-shocking headline that it was sold for a six figure sum after a nine-publisher auction. Big news indeed! Did it stand up? Well yes of course it did; I still mourn it now, weeks later. It is one of those books that you can’t put down – that sounds like a cliché, it isn’t meant to. What I mean is, once you’ve finished reading it you literally don’t want to put it down and sever the relationship you had, but instead clutch it to your chest.

What made this book so special for me is that it is a beautiful and engaging story with broken characters, ticking all the boxes, but is peppered with…the language of flowers! Traditionally a Victorian employ, the language of flowers was used as a message, daffodils meaning new beginnings, yellow roses meaning jealousy. A suitor had to choose his flowers very carefully for fear of offending the object of his affection, as their meaning would be pored over.

I have a certain passion for anything Victorian as, well… they knew how to do words: Orotund, Lubricious, Corpulence. They celebrated the beauty of words in a way that we seem to have forgotten. As for The Language of Flowers, there were so many beautiful names of flowers but my favourite word: Chartreuse.

All of this heady literature comes to me at a time when the first passion for words is being ignited in my two young children. Yesterday I was trying to explain to my son that the “u” in “duck” and the “oo” in “woof” make the same sound. At least they do in my middle English tones.

We spend time encouraging him to search out letters on the page that are in his name. He frequently tries out words for their poetry, rolling made up words around in his mouth. And the beauty of it, he can’t even read! He’s so excited about words and the bag hasn’t even been opened for him yet. We use books a lot, their storylines as inspiration for play. Tony Mitton’s Sir Laughalot a firm favourite.

And my son too brings me new words, although perhaps not strictly in the dictionary. “Mummy, can you pass the car, you know, the one next to the squelcher.”

Squelcher. n. kitchen appliance used to remove juice from citrus fruit.

Or my favourite, the brilliant “Oh Bumpers!”

Bumpers. int. exclamation of annoyance.

What my daughter of two brings to the table is the knowledge that we don’t need words as much as we think we do. The average two year old knows fifty words, granted understands a lot more, but I can tell you she is perfectly equipped to make herself understood!

So there must be a natural affinity with developing your vocabulary. Perhaps not so obsessive as my closet hoarding of words, but an affinity nonetheless. I don’t know what the future brings but I do know that however much our world changes in the next 2, 10, 20,000 years, there will always be words. Hallelujah!

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Emi is an artist, embroiderer, ferocious scrapbooker, word hoarder and obsessive writer. She studies the books she reads and the films she watches and reviews every one. As author of No Fun Mum, a blog dedicated to finding the “Extraordinary in the Ordinary” world of parenting, Emily hopes to connect parents sharing similar experiences across the globe. Emily writes children’s stories and poems and is hoping to find a publisher before her children are too old to appreciate them! She shares a birthday with Lady Gaga. In her time working in the magazine world, she met many celebrities but was truly star struck on meeting the British Film Classification Director, David Cooke whose signature is one of the most viewed in the UK, appearing before every cinema screened film in the UK. “Me time” for Emi involves ice skating and film photography.

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