A Taste of Words

Here’s a sample from upcoming (early next year?) novel, Only Words. Narration throughout the work is done by the words – they speak themselves, so to speak. Words are, as you see below, somewhat full of themselves; Like Trump, they hyperbolize their importance.

In truth, the people of Varnis Bay acquired their characteristic halting speech centuries before when they took up imitating the faltering tongue of a much admired young man, Varnis, who saved scores from drowning during a freak storm. He braved dangerous flood waters in his fragile bark to ferry household after household to high ground. Varnis’s speech was defective due to a brain injury he suffered as an infant; his mother dropped him on his head. Residents of Varnis Bay – it was called something else then, a name lost to history – mimicked Varnis to honor him, a few at first, soon more, eventually everyone. For a time they blinked when they talked, once for each word, as was Varnis’s habit, but this proved to be onerous and the practice soon died out.

This example of halting enunciation illustrates the social nature of words and how easily and unintentionally human communities adopt speech patterns. This community shaping applies not only to enunciation, but also vocabulary, syntax preferences, pronunciation, all of it. Often behind these linguistic changes major social changes follow. In a few decades, language characteristics that take hold in the words of a few trendsetting individuals encompass a community, a region, a continent. The link from identifiable events in Varnis Bay to the speech patterns Maegans and Dragos discuss is palpable; other possible links remain speculative. For example, the optimism and good humor so prevailing at Pretty See is probably the consequence of a lullaby sung there centuries before Maegans’s time, a lullaby called ‘Sixteen words for Joy’ composed by a particularly happy nanny. “Frolic, glee, look at me; rapture, joy, here’s a new toy; merry and bliss my cheek kiss,” and so on. By Maegans’s time, residents of Pretty See know a dozen ways to be happy and only a few ways to be sad. And, what explains the dogged punctiliousness at Hagan Das? What explains the general decrease in hedonism and increase in self-denial at one travels up River Eisomrun? Is it any wonder Zoltan sought a bride from a community close to the mouth of the river at Varnis Bay?

You believe you choose your demeanor. Certainly, you react to circumstances and developments, but your personality is largely discretional, so you think. Yet, throughout your life, you learn what words come your way de rigueur. Who among you takes serious charge of what words inhabit his/her head? You complain when a catchy tune takes hold in your consciousness, a so-called ear-worm, and strive to drive it out by humming something else, but do you even notice when a beguiling word captures your fancy? No; you welcome the addition to your vocabulary and use the word as often as possible until you tire of it. “Use a word three times and it’s yours,” is the adage, but in truth, it’s the other way. Use a word three times and it takes up residency in your brain, now a part of the control structure there.

No man ever acted courageously who lacked the ability to recognize courage and call it by its proper name. Cowardice is an option only to those who know the words that go with it – fear, timidity, pusillanimity, and the rest – and what they mean. The same holds for self-control, wisdom, and justice, the other three golden virtues. For that matter, faith, hope, and charity, who round out the seven heavenly virtues, are no different. Parents hope to teach virtue by encouraging virtuous behavior and discouraging vicious, perhaps by setting an enlightening example, yet they you fail to understand they are teaching vocabulary, nothing more.

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