For the Love of Language and Angela Carter, or Why I Suck at Scrabble

My finest scrabble moment was forming the word, bairn, on the board. It was a word I had first learnt upon watching Lady and the Tramp as a child. While few points were scored, I delighted so in the word itself, once again proving that I am no fierce competitor and simply an innocent though no less enthusiastic bystander in the game.

Words have always had a way of thrilling me from the first moment my grandfather dutifully read to me as a child. Today, I am a collector of all things wordy… From the Italian word, gattara, for the elderly ladies who feed the stray cats along the cobbled streets… To komorebi, Japanese for the dappled light that filters through the leaves of a tree… And I have to say I find great solace in the Yiddish luftmensch, literally meaning ‘air person’, for a person of a dreamier disposition and perhaps a little less grounded with the more commonsense aspects of reality, to know that I am not alone.

When I was at varsity, fellow bibliophiles (a dear, dear friend and his older brother) and myself played a game every Friday stretched out on the lawn in the sun with the Oxford English Dictionary and a six pack of chilled Black Labels, once our classes were done for the day, and we winded down for the weekend ahead. One person would open the dictionary at random. The second would state whether the page on the left or right. The third amongst us then deliberated over the words on the selected page and having found the most peculiar word on the page, the game was set in motion. The first to use the word in conversation organically would be declared triumphant. As nerdy as it might sound, this Friday ritual was an endless source of mirth for us and a simple and joyful celebration of the word in all its mesmerising guises.

Later I would play a game for my own personal amusement trying to match a fitting adjective to a person I loved. Once I stumbled upon a word and its description, as a person who bubbles irrepressibly over like a fine, uncorked champagne: ebullient. I knew instantly that the word belonged to my most beloved Italian friend who is ebullience made flesh and who pours so much passion and heart into anything and everything she does and with all whom she holds dear. Another time, I regarded a friend with a mischievous grin and announced, having explained my game, that I had finally found his word. He responded emphatically that he didn’t like to be tied down by anything, least of all a word. Funny then, I had to laugh and share with him, that the word I thought suited him most of all was in fact that most glorious of adjectives: mercurial!

And oh, how do I thrive on writers who wield language like a magic wand…

I still remember falling madly and deeply in love with Angela Carter with her novel of dizzying heights, Nights at the Circus... Having such a glorious, unadulterated way with words that I could taste her prose, smell every scent with her words hanging heavy in the air, thick with palpability, feel with it all an exhilarating touch upon my skin, like an awakening… I was heartbroken to say the least, to learn that her brilliant mind had been snuffed out far too prematurely by a cancerous body. But she lives on, dazzling me without fail with the tales that she has woven so very masterfully to be returned to time and time again and to inspire generations of readers and writers to come.

So nerd or not, and utterly useless at scrabble, I declare my undying devotion to the glorious world of words and their ability to enchant, despair, and even to exhilarate… I am, quite simply, smitten. For life. And should I remain an incorrigible spinster with two cats for the rest of my life on this fair earth, I shall merrily be married to the written word and all the magic a single word can hold in the palm of its hand, like a first kiss, or the first bite of a strange fruit. Forever fondly and with unwavering fidelity. For in the word, I always find my faith restored in all that is truly wonderful in this adventure called life. And it is the word that never falters, but gives so very generously, each and every day, asking for so very little in return. In this, I am the luckiest and will happily fail dismally at scrabble as long as my living days. For words, spoken, or writ, with true intention, are a treasure indeed. And again and again, with each new word and each new literary crush, I am indeed the luckiest.

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