Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Magic of Words

Words are amazing things. Though intangible they have substance and texture. They can flow, gush, and trickle like water. They have the power to give and take life. They come in different flavors from English to Urdu. They require chemistry to be used properly. They can take you down the rabbit hole and back again. And we, the writers, we are the wizards who create the magic.

We range in ability from a neophyte Ron Weasley to a seasoned Dumbledore. Life is our Hogwarts and we study relentlessly. We sort ourselves into different genres instead of houses. Our magic wands have keyboards and hard drives.

Words are our natural obsession. Most of you know what I am talking about. We place them, rearrange them, and fiddle with them, looking for an impossible level of perfection. We know that perfect combination is out there because every now and then we manage to herd a few of them together in just the right combination to dazzle even our own inner critic.

Sometimes the obsession gets the better of us and some of those magic words start circling in our heads the same way that annoying song gets stuck in your head. I once spent an entire day stuck on the word "shoe." It seemed to be such an on word on that day. I couldn't get over the sound of the word and how strange it seemed. I know that there is an evolution to the word that came to represent our most common form of footwear. I know that as English speakers we have tacitly agreed that this is what the word refers to for all of us. It was just at that particular time the word struck me as odd.

Then there are the words that just feel good tripping off the tongue. For me it tends to be certain scientific and medical terms. My two favorite are caulerpa taxifolia (a form of seaweed), and necrotizing fasciitis (a flesh-eating disease). There is a certain poetry to these words in their rhythm and flow. They can get stuck in my head worse than the two weeks I couldn't get "What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor" out of my head.

I have a friend who loves to read and so she reads really fast so that she can get through each book as quickly as possible. She calls me a slow reader. I remind her that I'm not a slow reader, but someone who has chosen to take the time when reading to savor the words like a fine wine. I observe the way the writer puts the words together, how they fit, and whether or not I would have written it differently. I take the time to be amazed at someone else's skill with the magic.

The strangest question in the world is "What's the magic word?" It is not "please." It is not "abracadabra."  It is a strange question because the only right answer is "All of them!"