In my sensory education I include my physical awareness of the word. Of a certain word, that is; the connection it has with what it stands for. At around the age of six, perhaps, I was standing by myself waiting for supper. . . There comes a moment, and I saw it then, when the moon goes from flat to round. For the first time it met my eyes as a globe. The word “moon” came into my mouth as though fed to me out of a silver spoon.
I was flipping through Burroway’s Imaginative Writing when I came across this quote by Eudora Welty heading up the appendix on prosody. The moment Welty describes is so wonderful, I had to stop & think if I had any similar moments. I can associate feelings with words easily but memories of physical resonance aren’t recalled so quickly. Probably because, for me, to be physically aware of myself is often uncomfortable.
In the spirit of the above passage, I wrote out a quick list of words. I could quote a few dozen passages from novels that have disturbed my senses in different ways, but for this post, I’m interested in individual words & the reactions of my flesh.
The word flaccid, for instance, suggests the secret, wrinkly unattractive folds of sex organs–pebbled, pale & common. My skin crawls whenever I see/hear this word because there’s an element of tired, used-up decadence to it. Think of the orgy scene in Sexy Beast: stale, unappealing, excessive, ridiculous.
I often mingle the words succor & succotash in my mind, which gestures toward the link between food & life, but also brings to mind the goopy grey-brown mush that would be served for lunch in the school cafeteria. My tongue shrivels at the taste & as a result rarely pronounces either word.
Then there’s the word jugular, which was rooted in squeamish anticipation as I read White Fang as a girl. There are at least three times in the course of the book when the vein features prominently–when White Fang is attacked by a wolverine in the wild, when he fights the mastiff in the dog fight & when he goes for Beauty Smith’s throat as he tries to recapture the wolf. Each time London describes the pulse of life mere centimeters away from being broken; I can never read the word without fighting the urge to place my hand over my throat in sympathy.
But not all words have negative associations. I’ve always loved the word June, how you can’t pronounce it quickly. How the vowel forces you to slow down & draw out the word, much like the heat & the flow of time during summer itself. The “oo” sound comes from the base of your throat & makes you aware of how the spot feels when you drink lemonade.
Three related words: caterwampus, it’s cousin skiddlywampus & rhombus. They buzz beneath my ribs before I say them. It’s a game between your mind & your tongue to see who’ll mess up first, before their ridiculousness tickles you on the side & the back of your neck.
Finally, one of my favorite words: Medina. Don’t ask me why, just saying this word gives me pure joy. It’s a name that’s used in many places, but I still love it & whenever I find my mind in chaos, I try to repeat it as a distraction. Any pleasure I find in it is purely personal; I just feel elated & light whenever I think of the word.