Here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately: words. This should come as no surprise. I’m a writer, I think about words all the time. I love vocabulary. I have a friend whose vocabulary is almost as big as John Kennedy Toole’s, and if you don’t know who I’m talking about you should get off your computer or put down your phone and immediately go buy A Confederacy of Dunces. I love that friend because every time I read his work I learn a new word, or a useful phrase he’s put together with an obscure reference, like “cirrhotic Charon”. What an image! Language is fun, words are fascinating, how we use them and put them together is just the best. Every new word I learn I feel is putting a new tool in the toolbox, one more way to try to grasp at meaning. Words, in general, are so great.
I started thinking specifically about this though, I mean more than usual, because I went to the rodeo. Stay with me. I went to the rodeo with my aunt and my cousin, and it was a lot of fun for all the usual reasons: craft markets, fry bread tacos, horses, good company, everyone shouting let ‘er buck!, country music, boots. But it was also fascinating because I learned so many new words. There was a whole world in Pendleton that I hadn’t really heard before, all these ways of talking about things that I didn’t know existed. Katie said there was a bull that was a really rank ride. A rank ride. Listen to that roll of the tongue! It means that it was a tough bull, a really hard ride for the cowboy. But also think about what’s happening there: rank, a noun, used as an adjective, that kind of sounds like dank. I couldn’t get rank ride out of my head for days, much like that period this spring when I couldn’t stop thinking of the word rabble rouser. But that’s a story for a different time.
There’s an academic way to talk about this, of course. It’s called a discourse community, and every little world you belong to has a way of speaking that define the community itself. It’s that thing where you can tell where someone is from by whether they say you guys or y’all, or if they’re buying or making groceries, or if it’s kitty or catty corner. Maybe those are bad examples, but you get the idea. There’s always a way we know whether someone’s in or out of our world, and language is a part of that.
But if I think about it purely from a writer perspective, a language perspective, it makes me hungry to know all these little pockets of language that are happening. Imagine the expansion of thought when we get to add all those turns of phrases that are out there to describe something to the toolbox! Imagine what I could say if I only knew how to say rank ride. It makes me want to learn more languages, go magpie ways of thinking from somewhere else. There is so much possibility if we’re only curious enough to look.
It makes me glad, too, for the many gifts of language the worlds I already belong to have given me. Yesterday I explained to my advisor what it meant to be “cliffed” out of somewhere, because I’d used it in a piece about chukar hunting. I know what it means to glass and go sidehilling! I’m luck to have a wealth of language behind me, and I’m excited, always, for more.