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Saturday, May 29, 2004
Words are tricky. They look like they say one thing but, evil bastards, really they mean something else.
Take the word scone.
For years, the English language and I had an agreement. I would say skoe + n and passersby would smile benevolently upon my efforts, rewarding me with a pasty dry pastry that reminded me of untanned, pimply boy bottoms.
A skoe + n was good enough for me and, taking it for granted, I believed that I was good enough for the scone. I would overlook its unappealing outward appearance in return for its company. Aren't we told that Beauty kissed the Beast and that Princess kissed the Frog? I was just as forgiving of the scone's outer appearance if it would bestow friendship.
Then the scone pulled a fast one on me.
A lady blurted out s + con.
I almost replied, "Don't you mean skoe + n?" The realization sank in. The scone was not the pastry I knew. It had secrets. Bewildering ones. It had a life beyond our relationship.
At home, I wanted desperately to open a dictionary, to see if I was right...or if it was she that was right.
I didn't know if I could ever trust my pronounciation of scone again. I lied to myself, insisting that the only ethical thing would be to respect the scone's privacy. I succeeded in avoiding the dictionary.
Next I fell into the arms of an adverb called maniacally. I never had a thing for the bad boy archetype; this time my convictions fell aside as I shamelessly pronounced it may + knee + ack + ah + lee.
The honeymoon ended even faster.
It was not may + knee + ack + ah + lee. It was mah + nigh + ugh + klee.
Again I was embarrassed, hurt, tormented. Could I be sure of the words I spoke when I could not be sure of their identities, slipping as they did between my fingers like canaries racing for the open window?
I dallied with public, turned out it was pub + lick, not pew + blick. Curator confused me as to whether it was a kew + rate + er, or whether it was a coo + ray + ter. Sometimes I wanted to say facetious; a sudden shyness forced me to use the mere funny. Something else deserved an albeit; I stayed safe with an although. Nevermind what happens to poor Nathaniel!
Looking back over my cloistered childhood, the reason for these unsatisfactorily wordy relationships is evident.
There I was, eight, nine, ten, eleven, even now, alone and reading.
We were poor. Without me, my parents did not have to fend off inquiries for toys. So my parents left me in the car. In the car, forbidden to leave its confines, without the radio, with no one else nearby, what else could I do but read?
All these words I knew secondhand, through books. I read them over and over again. I never heard them spoken nor did I ever speak them. When I did speak these words, they came out all wrong.
Right now I have two options. I can annotate the entire dictionary, then tread daintily into a world of words.
My other choice is to continue being the boor, garble words, then consult the dictionary after the pitchforks are sharpened and the torches doused in kerosene.
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