Ere Words Were

Woe were we when once we wooed
wowed with words we would vow
to wed where naught
taught to tie the knot
a language log in front of us saw
how it was on a woeful wordful sea.

To whoo in the waves of a spelling sea
to whit her way through a sea wrack wood
while I too hooed to walk saw
you to a vowel moon owling
out of a wood worded knot
a sentence fraught with naught.

Yet we should not
set sail on too prim a prescriptive sea
wear not too tight the knot we tied for the knot
does not mean our days of wooing
must turn to stone washed vowels
that we might say how we saved how we sawed.

Woe the night full of guttural saws
silver dreams of wordscaped naught
woah the mirror that burns not its own vow
merely reflects what it hears
in a dark forest a bearingless wood
of articulated knot.

Woe to valor that ties a knot
for one side up the other not this seesaw
giddyup and stop of hooah and woah
she loves me she loves me naught
how it was on the woo worn sea
ere we enjoined the corseted vowels.

Whoa the abode that constantly vows
to daily renew a woeful knot
or be chastised to sea
for what we were for what we saw
for what we heard and what we could not
before we verbally wooed.

Now down to the sea words borne of vows
set sail to keel whit to hoo but not
with a saw set wode with naught.

Fear and Loathing in Lexical Vegas

Over at Language Log we find a discussion on “words we hate.” I can’t tell if discuss is one or not. But some words strike some as literally offensive, or cause physical stress, a kind of lexical anxiety. This is not about disdain for the simple malapropism, or of academic scorn for the wrong word in the wrong place, but of word phobia, a word like some dreaded dog we walk around the block to avoid.

What is the source of this strange malady, a fear of certain words? Perhaps some words do have facial expressions. Lenny Bruce tried to solve part of the problem, the dirty words versus dirty minds dichotomy. In the beginning was the word, and “the fall is into language” (O. Brown, Love’s Body, 257). Lenny may have gone down with his solution in part because we don’t want a solution; we need words we abhor.

So I googled (a word I don’t like, but don’t hate, but like certain tools we’d rather not have to pick up, the plunger, for example, the plumber’s helper, knowing we’re headed for another good word, “by means of suction,” add rubber cup and we’re having some fun here, sometimes we just have to grab it and get on with things – though to google hasn’t always been this way: from the OED: 1907 Badminton Mag. Sept. 289 The googlies that do not google) “words we love,” and guess what? The words we love are the same words we hate.

Perhaps James Joyce best explains words that cause fright: “Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work” (“The Sisters,” in Dubliners, 1916).

Where Listening Gives Rise to Silence and Fizzles

There lived in our neighborhood some time ago a locally famous pianist who enjoyed great demand for piano lessons from parents for their children. The demand was such that a prospective student had to interview with the teacher. One of the interview “questions” involved listening to chords: the child identified a chord as “happy” or “sad.” Children unable to pass this interview question eliminated themselves from consideration. It’s been some time since I’ve talked to the pianist, but I’ve wondered from time to time what emotion a Bm7b5 (B minor 7 flat 5) might equate to, or an Eb7b9 (E flat 7 flat 9, as an inside chord, without the 5th, on the guitar).

How one distinguishes sounds, as in the experiment discussed over at Language Log, might explain musical preferences. Listeners who prefer a country western song, such as Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (and its many covers), over a short piece by John Cage, might not hear sounds the same way the Cage fan distinguishes sounds, for “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees” (Blake, “Proverbs of Hell”) – as both Williams and Cage would probably agree.

The Language Log listening experiment might also explain reading preferences, why some readers, for example, prefer Charles Dickens to Samuel Beckett (Dickens writes in minor keys, invoking pathos and bathos and every other kind of oath, Beckett in jovial major modes with flurries of flats falling like ash in downward spiraling scales).

Emergence might be at work here, too (the entire piece can’t be predicted by any one of its chords), or simply that our ears sometimes grow tired or lazy, as do our tongues and our eyes. This is what Cage explored in Silence, and what Beckett meant by Fizzles.

Me epistle on “Moopetsi meepotsi”

Whenever challenged with words unknown we go first to the OED then to Finnegans Wake. We did so this morning looking for meep, following yet another Language Log thread. We found meep in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, on page 276, in footnote number 4:

“Parley vows the Askinwhose? I do, Ida. And how to call the cattle black. Moopetsi meepotsi.”

A meep, then, is a calf, and a moop, the calf’s mom.

The moral of me epistle can be found in today’s Boston Globe, where the principal barning the word learns who abuses meep, steps in moop, for the pot (principal), trying to silence the kettles (students) back, starts them whistling, creating a word stampede:

“That was the first joke of Willingdone, tic for tac. Hee, hee, hee! This is me Belchum in his twelvemile cowchooks, weet, tweet and stampforth foremost, footing the camp for the jinnies. Drink a sip, drankasup, for he’s as sooner buy a guinness than he’d stale store stout” (p. 9).

Let the peeps meep, for as Robert Frost said, “…there must something wrong / In wanting to silence any song” (“A Minor Bird”).

Written after a visit to Language Log

We look forward to our daily dose of Language Log. Language has undone so many. This morning there’s a post on the mateless orange, for she can’t be rhymed, yet she’s not alone. 

          The Mateless Orange

The shelves are bare of rhymes for orange.

Not only that, but my dish is empty of porridge.

You’ve heard that girl before, right?

Orange is popular, purple not,

not even for Steven Earle.

For it’s rindlessness that’s comic.

But let me ask you something:

What the heck is this all about?

If you stop and think about it,

your head is jam-packed

with oranges,

with the curious result

that there are those who will find this an insult:

a banana is not yellow,

and the mateless orange rinds,

for she can’t be rhymed,

yet she’s not alone.

Good night, my some-corpus one

We’ve been enjoying a discussion over at Language Log on the difference between the words someone and somebody.

Maybe Meredith Willson’s Marian the librarian’s song “Good Night, My Someone,” from the musical The Music Man, illustrates a point that might be made for the ear making the distinctive decision, a vote for tone:

“Good night, my someone, good night, my love…”

Of course, you have to hear the song, not merely read it, but “good night, my somebody” somehow doesn’t sound the same, carries a different tone, and suits the romantic intent far less, introducing as it does, indeed, the corpus, which, from a grammar of romance, should not come into play too early in someone’s love song.