Tuesday, March 13, 2012

“Poets make pets of pretty . . . words” Elinor Wylie wrote. I imagine anyone who uses words in communication of one sort or another, whether in writing or verbally, has words that are of some special significance to him or her. Sometimes that significance is positive, sometimes negative. Sometimes it is a word that is in popular use.

One word that I hear over and over in conversations is “awesome”. I hear it used by many people, very young people to very old people. I’m not sure what they mean by the use of that word. I have never seen anything that I would describe as “awesome,” that is, something that “inspires . . . fear mingled with admiration or reverence” (from The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary). Awesome seems to me to be a strong word to apply to most things. Fear isn’t too hard to come by these days. Reverence is rather rare. Admiration is all over the place, applicable to everything from super-sized sandwiches to the latest model sports car. But putting fear and admiration together in the everyday world—or fear and reverence? I don’t think so. It’s stretching a point.

I have many words that I like simply for their sound—angelus, eventide, twilight, autumn. Come to think of it, I like those words not only for their sound but also for the images they inspire. I wonder which came first for me, the sound of the word or the image that accompanies it. I think anyone who cares to could put together a list of a dozen or so such words.

There is one word that has been in my thought patterns recently, one that is there not for its sound (though its sound is not unpleasant) but for its meaning. That word is “perhaps.” Just think of the images that word might provoke, visions of all sorts of things coming to be. “Perhaps” is a word pregnant with possibility, capable of launching one on a voyage of the wildest dreams. And that’s just it—it is a dreamer’s word. But what’s wrong with that? Everyone is a dreamer at one time or another or, I think, should be. At any rate, it’s my current pet word. How long that will last I don’t know. Perhaps next week I’ll have another.

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