I’ve always loved the word ‘crinkle’. It has such happy, playful edges; an exuberant breed of wrinkle, nestling in furrows of amiability. Far more excitable than a fold, but so much kinder than a pinch! It’s the pleated corner of a smiling eye or the puckered crumple of seersucker. And unlike the meekly silent ‘wrinkle’, it has a distinctive voice too; a crackle, a ruckle, a scrunch and a pucker. Such a perky onomatopoeic specimen, just like ‘tickle’ and ‘wink’; tiny slips of mischievousness tied up in little wriggles of ink.
More and more, I am beginning to understand the power of words. We don’t just speak them, we release them into the world like frogspawn; fertile pouches of punctuation that grow arms and legs, wriggling far and free through the world to leap or squelch. The language we send forth drifts like plankton through the energetic ether, wafting across vast reefs of vibrational-anemones waving colourful fronds to catch them, digesting and releasing their essence back into our teeming little rockpools of time and space.
Ah, the bawdy gleam of gobble, the sticky lewdness of secrete, or the dark relish of revolt; the ringletted prettiness of curlicued, the lyrical swing of whimsical, or the thrilling, breathy sibilance of illicit! Not to mention the stout clout of thick-witted, and the weighty plod of placidity. Though some words seem to have lost their way, like that poor, godforsaken militia (what were they thinking, allocating such a sibilant treat to something so mercenary and bleak, when it should so clearly be a word to describe a gooey, molten delicacy to be savoured on the tongue?) So thank goodness for hullabaloo, kerfuffle and rapscallion, all doing exactly what they promised to.
As the 18th-century writer Samuel Johnson said, ‘Language is the dress of thought’, which means we each have access to an entire magical wardrobe into Narnia if we choose. We don’t have to settle for the dreary sacking of a word like ‘exercise’; we can delve past the hessian to the frills and fancies of the costume-box! As Candace Pert rightly notes in her book ‘Molecules of Emotion’, how infinitely more motivating to call it ‘bodyplay’ instead!
Like a sharp-suited ‘I will’ vs a threadbare ‘I might,’ words can enhance and empower us the same way Dynasty shoulder-pads did Joan Collins – or leave us chill-veined and shivery in our underpants and socks. Words can protect us or expose us. Feed us or deplete us. Nourish or sicken. Just like mushroom-picking, it’s best to choose with great care; those that are most tempting and accessible are often the most poisonous, and the rarest delicacies must be sniffed out of the earth like buried truffles.
And so they remain, waiting patiently for us to discover them like presents under the linguistic Christmas tree: words like weevily, mawkish and celestial, or gnarly and ignominious. Just like the dwarfs of Sleeping Beauty, they’re an infinite curiosity of beads with which to string our motley necklace of meaning – and a merry ball-pit of enunciation. Oink, chitter and kerplunk; repugnant, turgid and execrable. Not forgetting the engorged licentiousness of tumescence of course. Oh, magnificent word, how I do love thee!
Like a cast of Narnia characters all jostling to play in the scenes of our thoughts, words influence each other too. Whomever we choose as our leading light, they nudge and prod their closest associates on stage with them, and the next bead we thread onto the necklace of our lexicon greases the slide for more of the same; miniature avalanches of associative energy tumbling endlessly into the jewellery of our subconscious.
‘Struggle’ is a case in point – a sludgeonly word full of drudge and deadweight that I so often catch myself using (yes, I admit that I made up ‘sludgeonly’. Hang it in your wardrobe with glee!) What if I choose something a little more flexible – don a garment of vocabulary that clothes my perception like that fancy high-tech performance-wear athletes use? A breathable, moisture-wicking wonder that lets me prance, stretch and jump freely, all while giving my buttocks a gratifying-perky lift? What if I’m not struggling (which sounds arduous and futile), but rummaging instead – delving freely through the great jumble-sale of life’s possibilities, separating treasures from trash, ferreting and focusing and getting ever-closer to those neglected, mothballed delights and my inner-squeal of discovery? Yes, that feels better!
If feelings are the fruiting bodies of our thoughts, then the language of our consciousness spreads spores like fungi; great cankers can bloom forth if we’re careless with our words. Their resonance can spread underground like honey fungus, attacking and killing our roots and decaying the inner wood of our spirit.
So may we all be truffle-hogs instead, digging out the subterranean treasures rather than grasping at the familiar toadstools of our lexicon!
And may I rummage through my words the way I do through my tin of Quality Street…
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