I’m comforted by the idea that there is a word for everything. For every feeling in your head, every item around you, every little thing under the sun there is, most likely, a word for it. I wonder if painters feel the same way about paint – do they think there is a color of paint for every color in their imaginations? Words are the writer’s paint and the more words you have at your command, the more tools you have to work with. I love that there is a word for when you can’t find the right word for something (although it’s usually because there is something seriously wrong in your brain if you have it for real) – aphasia. I love that there is a word for having a shapely bottom – callipygian. Obelisk. Mysterious. Grand. Homunculus. Wisteria.
The problem, of course, is that if your reader doesn’t have the tools to understand you, well, your meaning remains locked away on the page. I get the sense that writing with words is like having a lock and the reader has the key. I offer you a lock (say, the word callipygian) and if you don’t already have the key to the meaning of that word OR you don’t know how to find the key of the meaning of the word, you won’t understand me if I say I aspire to a callipygian physique. What if my story hinges on your understanding of callipygian?
I know I’m not the first person to think about these things, but let me work this out for myself here. This all started with my idea that there is a word for everything which is perfect because I need lots of words every day. Then I noticed that it made me comfortable – perhaps the idea that I could be more completely and fully understood? Yes! Because like most human beans (dare I say all?) my own little life has been shot through with feelings of misunderstanding. If I just know the right words, I thought, then everyone will understand me which is great – saves time and such.
But that’s not really how it works out is it? I don’t think I’ll ever know all the words to be understood, but I keep trying to learn as many as I can. I can never know if I have the right lock to fit your keys, but we can certainly still try.