The Weight of Words

captainWhat in the hell did humans do before the invention of language?

I asked this of Captain (the serial killer kitten) and he just totally shrugged in a cat kind of way and then demanded food.

Simon Winchester’s novel The Professor and the Madman chronicles the first English dictionary and how it was assembled. While the history of the men and women who pulled it together is fascinating, the thing that stayed with me was the methodology. Basically they asked everyone who could read and who had access to books to search for words and identify when that word first appeared in print and provide their best interpretation of the meaning intended at the time it appeared and in context. The etymology of a word, where it came from, how it came to be is what gives some words significant heft over others.

It may be that a reader doesn’t even realize that they are putting their own understanding of a word on it as they read it, but they are and it really has an effect on the writer’s intent … which makes it really hard to write sometimes.

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