Saturday, April 25, 2009

Word nerd

I love words. More to the point, I love written words. I love to read them, love to type them, and especially love to write them by hand. There's something about writing them, feeling each letter come to life, that is very satisfying. And there's no better way to do it than with a freshly sharpened wooden pencil: the way the earthy smells of the wood and carbon waft into the air, the way the line twists and thickens as you push through the word, the way the graphite dust forms little smudges that get all over page and table and fingers. This is as organic, as close to actually creating life, as writing gets, and I sometimes find myself finishing sentences with a little flourish, just to keep the pencil on the paper a little longer.

While I love words in general, there are some words that stand out even more than others. For the past 48 hours, for example, the word "robust" has been a constant companion. But my favorite word of all time is "sesquipedalian."

There are two things I love about "sesquipedalian." The first is that it has some weight to it. While it's not the longest word I've ever used in a sentence, it is no slouch. With 14 letters, five syllables and a full palette of sounds, it creates its own landscape in the mouth - and it is fun terrain to cover! (By the way, the longest word I have used would be "Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg" - and yes, I'm proud that I can pronounce it!)

The second thing I love about it has to do with its definition. "Sesquipedalian" is an adjective that literally means "foot and a half long" (sesqui- one and a half; ped foot), and is used to describe words which have a lot of syllables. In other words, "sesquipedalian" is a very sesquipedalian word.

I love it when a words' form illustrates its own definition like that. "Misspelled" doesn't do anything special for me, but "mispelled" puts a tingle down my spine. Likewise, for me to really appreciate "redundant," "redundant" must be used redundantly, when the use of "redundant" is clearly redundant. I think "abbreviation" fails as a word, where "abbr." succeeds. And I'm sure you know how I think the word "parentheses" should always be written (hint: in parentheses).

With a pencil in hand, this sort of thing can take on even more dimension. For example, the word "tall" ends up with letters stretched higher than other words on the page. And don't even get me started on the word "ornate."



  1. For me the smell of the sharpened pencil blends with the smell of cigarette smoke and eraser since that was the smell of my dad solving whatever work engineering questions he dealt with when I was a kid. That for me is the smell of serious thought and computation. I have a writing relationship with ink absorbing into paper, for I am a fountain pen geek. This is an affectation I acquired after we moved. I don't use expensive fountain pens, just student and disposable ones.

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