Saturday, 29 March 2014

Confessions of a logophile

Yesterday someone said to me, “I like it when you come in for your appointments. I always learn a new word.” That felt better than someone telling me I look AH-MAY-Zing (which isn’t a regular occurrence and therefore may not be a valid comparison, but still…)

It’s not that I set out to teach anyone new words. In fact, I'm usually the one learning them. It’s a natural consequence of reading. As an early reader, my fascination with words was immediate. At my first university (University of Melbourne, leafy trees, lush lawns, sandstone, and that horrible Redmond Barry building) I became engrossed in linguistics. 

Words and language have always captivated me. The home I grew up was multilingual (English, Italian, Croatian – Dad has a smattering of Spanish and German) and there was an emphasis on reading. My mother was the one who stacked our bookshelves with encyclopaedias and, in 1959 as gift for my father, purchased a Webster’s Dictionary, through which he perfected his English; enough to found an inaugural interpreters’ association and regular work in the Supreme Court. He still has that dictionary. The cover imprint is faded and the pages well-worn. For me, it’s the best book on his bookshelf.

Recently, I've been reading more academic literature. It feels like I have to stop every few minutes to look up something new. I love it! I'm drawn to documentaries on the English language. (Try the DVD series The Adventures of English for a short entertaining look at its origins and history). I admit I can grate on people’s nerves but I'm not giving up my passion. There is something deeply existential about finding exactly the right words for what we need to say to one another, in the right way. That’s why I like the succinctness of Twitter as much as I love the hardcover printed tomes on my bookshelf.

Those around me are regularly driven crazy by my discovery of a new word that sends me to the dictionary, scouring for meaning and origins. I have a word blog, not a food blog, because words are more delicious to me. I like to mix them, roll the syllables and sounds around my mouth, test them out loud, listen to the cadence, bake them into sentences. It’s almost word porn.

I'm an unashamed, logophile, a verbivore, a verbomaniac even. Interestingly, when I ran the spell check on this piece, Microsoft Word edited ‘logophile’ to ‘loophole’.

Funny that. When you love words, there isn’t one.