My Love Affair with Words
I thought for Valentine’s Day I’d do something a little different from my usual blog posts. (And maybe a little bit cheesier—bear with me.) I’ve been posting a lot about content marketing and calls to action and things that, while very important, aren’t necessarily near and dear to my heart. But, in light of the holiday, I thought I’d take a moment to wax poetical about my one true love: language. (If that’s not your cup of tea, tune in next week, when I’ll have a post about the business benefits of a Google+ page.)
Words, Words, Words
It all started when I was little. My parents used to read to me constantly—at bedtime, before dinner, after work, when I was upset, even when I was in trouble. Books have long been a comforting presence in my life. I love books for their myriad physical pleasures: picking one up, hefting it around, riffling through its worn pages, and the way it smells. I also love stories—all kinds of stories. I’ll read anything, from science fiction set in a far-flung future to epic fantasies of heroes slain long ago to old dictionaries and textbooks on non-Euclidean geometry. But it’s not just the stories they tell or the information they impart that draws me to books—it’s more basic than that. I love language itself.
A Consummation Most Devoutly To Be Wished
I love the way words interact with each other. I’m captivated completely by the sonorous significance of alliteration. I love onomatopoeia, the way some words sound so exactly like what they mean—words like “fuzzy” or “plump” or “shush”. I love the way certain sounds play with one another, like how mumbly consonance can make a line of poetry feel slow and luxurious or assonance on short vowels can make it play trippingly across the tongue. (For a great primer on the musical sounds of English and how they’re used in poetry, I recommend Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide.) That infatuation with sound led me to poetry when I was in high school. For your sake, I won’t share anything I wrote—suffice it to say that the poetic musings of 16-year-olds are best left to the pages of the dusty, unopened journals in which they lie.
In A Dream of Passion
I chose my college for their professed love of books, and I was not disappointed. I spent four years ecstatic to be immersed in language—reading, writing, discussing, parsing, conjugating, pronouncing, even singing. I found out quickly that my favorite part of doing my homework—lots and lots of reading and many, many essays—was editing them. It was like magic! My half-formed thoughts and poorly thought out analogies of the night before could be revitalized, refreshed, reframed and rewritten to form coherent, cohesive thoughts. It felt like alchemy; it felt like magic. Soon I was offering to edit my friends’ papers; it wasn’t long before “offering” became “begging”. I was drunk with the heady rush of editing, and it took me over like a fever. I found myself holding forth on the merits of the Oxford comma, debating whether one ought to say “I don’t feel good” or “I don’t feel well”, becoming irate at poorly punctuated public signage. My boss at the time, the manager of the school’s book store and an old hand in the publishing industry, encouraged me to look into editing as a career.
To Show Virtue Her Own Feature
I was worried, at first. I worried that editing would tarnish my love of words, of language. I worried that exposure to poorly crafted quips in my professional life would erode my desire to read for pleasure. I worried that I would be unable to turn it off, that I’d never be reading without editing. I worried that my friends would abandon me, sick to death of my constant (if well-meaning) stream of minor corrections, a sort of verbal tic that I had become incapable of containing—”fewer, not less,” “me, not I,” “There are, not there is.” I worried that I was becoming insufferable. I worried, deep down, that in my industrious zeal to shape language according to its own image, to make it more closely adhere to the laws that bound it, I would lose touch with what drew me to it in the first place: its musicality, its whimsy, its lushness.
I’m not worried anymore. I still go home most nights and pluck a book from its shelf, breathing deep its dusty promise. I still revel in clever turns of phrase and unintentional rhyme. My heart still flutters at the best parts of poems, I still cry at the end of plays. My habit of correcting errant grammatical errors has done nothing to diminish the pleasure I take in a good book or a compelling conversation. As for my friends: at first they were amused by my behavior, then worried, and then varying degrees of resignation took root. I think they’re getting used to this new, compulsively grammatical branch of my personality. I think (I hope) that they’ve accepted it. It isn’t going anywhere.