I love the sensory sensuality of words. All those anticipatory Ts standing at parade rest in attentive. That D bumping into the G in nudge. Euphoria just dares those outnumbered consonants to hold down its vowels. And there’s something inherently sinister and furtive in the eliding consonants of slither. My favorite part of studying Hawaii’s history in school was not the exotic royalty, but being able to say King Kamehameha and Queen Liliuokalani out loud. Mahalo even sounded welcoming. All those vowels turned each Hawaiian word into a song.
I savor the flavors that roll around in my mouth as I taste nibble and imbibe. All those round Os and Gs in gorge leave me satiated. Whereas one word is a meal, multiples are two-scoop treats. The alliterative frisky feline is fun, but the consonance coupled with onomatopoeia (a delightful word in itself) of the hissing snake doubles the pleasure each word offers standing on its own. Similes and metaphors add additional layers and depth.
In high school, my friends used to say that I’d pull obscure words from the air, blow the dust off and insert them into my sentences. That always puzzled me. We writers search our memory banks for that perfect word to express what we are trying to convey. Just scroll down the dozens of synonyms in a thesaurus for say, and I rest my case. Retort and state both convey saying something, but they have vastly different meanings. Other differences between synonyms can be more nuanced, and it is the writer’s job to choose just the right word.
Poets are well versed (pardon the pun) in verbal efficiency. The paucity of space necessitates language redolent with imagery. The first 30 words of Charlotte poet David Radavich’s poem “Caveat” offers an economy with a rich return: “Be careful what/you let into your head./It may take root/there, send shoots through/the system,/leaf into your soul/and then shed/all into the winter wale.”
Writers play with words, creating combinations with which we become enamored. We so love our darlings that we often insert them into our work, whether they belong or not. However, as good writers we must sometimes kill our darlings, heeding that oft-quoted, sage advice that can be traced back to Arthur Quiller-Couch’s 1913-1914 Cambridge lecture “On the Art of Writing.” But our darlings are not truly dead. We enshroud, entomb, then resurrect and breathe new life into them when we create a more suitable medium.
Our words create feasts not only for our own souls, but for those of kindred spirits. So, writers, let’s cultivate our craft that we might feed the world.