I love words. In fact, I’m a word enthusiast. No, actually, I’m a word aficionado. I like the way words look, the way they sound, and the way they require me to rearrange and reposition my tongue and lips and teeth! I like the “mouth feel.”
I love euphonious words, especially: supine, scissors, fantabulous, panacea, disambiguate, luscious, discombobulate, scintilla, tremulous, orbicular, woebegone, sonorous, ethereal, pop, holler, britches, entwine, hullabaloo, phantasmagorical, serendipity, slew, velvety, liminal, dusk, ever, and even meniscus.
I love euphonious phrases, too: thread the needle, rev the engine, a touch ticklish, doplar sonar, sweet and sour, bad’s the best, or one of my own creation–recalled from a dream that I once dreamt–blue-pigeon-feather happy.
However, all of my favorite melodious phrases and words pale in comparison to the phrase considered by many linguists (who study phonaesthetics and know all about the properties of sound) to be the most beautiful word in the English language: cellar door! I was flabbergasted when I made that discovery, but matters of sound are so momentous and so weighty that lengthy debates surround them. For example, many people attribute the coinage of cellar door to fantasy writer J. R. R. Tolkien who used it in his 1955 speech “English and Welsh.” But as American lexicographer Grant Barrett established in his February 11, 2010, New York Times article aptly titled, “Cellar Door,” we must give credit to Shakespearean scholar Cyrus Lauron Hooper who used cellar door in his 1903 novel Gee-Boy.
Sometimes one of these little beauties gets stuck inside my head and manifests a fierce determination not to go away. For example, the melodious word ricochet has been bouncing around in there for an epoch at least—perhaps even longer—and it’s not alone. It’s flourishing there as part of an entire phrase—an entire stanza, actually—from “The Lanyard,” a poem by Billy Collins, former United States Poet Laureate:
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
Mind you: I don’t mind the fact that the stanza from the poem and the word ricochet won’t go away. I love poetry just as much as I love melodious words and phrases. And who doesn’t love Billy Collins?
And it’s easy to understand why this particular stanza from Billy Collins’ poem would linger in my mind. Like the speaker in his poem—presumably Collins himself—I, too, have been ricocheting slowly off the walls of my home library, moving from my cluttered desk with my personal computer (where I carry out my home-style professorial responsibilities) to my even more cluttered farm table with my considerably smaller tablet (where I fulfill whatever it is that I achieve when I write—whatever writing is—and where I first began this blog on November 26, 2012.
And continuing to compare myself to the speaker in Collins’ “The Lanyard” so that I might perhaps stop the word ricochet from ricocheting around in my head, I, too, am moving from my professorial computer to my writerly tablet, from stacks of papers on the former to stacks of books and two envelopes on the latter.
And it is on the two envelopes that my eyes fall even as I type this post. It is on the two envelopes that my eyes have been falling for several years. And it is on the two envelopes that my eyes will forever fall until I muster courage to open them.
My blog followers will perhaps remember those two envelopes, first mentioned in my December 31, 2014, post:
I have in my possession copies of critical Alexander Gordon manuscripts obtained from libraries in Scotland and England. Although I have had the packages for several months, I have not opened them yet because I know that the contents will take my Humourist research to new heights, and I have had neither time nor nerve to make the journey.
However, January 2015 will place me exactly where I need to be in terms of time and nerve to open the packages, review the manuscripts, and share my findings with you, right here in this blog.
So, there! Now you know! Those two envelopes are still on my desk waiting to be opened. I cannot claim that I have not had time, for I have had time aplenty. And I cannot claim that I have not had nerve to open the envelopes because I remain confident that the contents will take my Humourist research to new heights and higher ground.
In reality, I have no more time now than before, and I have no more nerve now than before. But what I do have now is the knowledge that now is the right time to write. Simply put, I have created the space, and I have allowed myself to enter. (Thank you, Natalie Goldberg, for reminding me:
…we never question the feasibility of a football team practicing long hours for one game; yet in writing we rarely give ourselves the space for practice (Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within).
So I am ricocheting slowly off the walls of my library for three reasons and three reasons only.
Ricochet Reason One. I have been away from my blog for so long that the resulting space is galatic, a perfect home for the word ricochet. And as I type, I cannot help but wonder: Is it really the word ricochet that is bouncing off vacuum space? Or is it really guilt? Perhaps both, but, now—on this momentary reflection—I suspect the latter. And that’s perfectly fine because my guilt makes me perfectly American, or, as Ezra Pound said about Robert Frost, “vurry Amur’k’n” (Dear Editor: A History of Poetry in Letters, edited by Joseph Parisi and Stephen Young).
Just by writing what I have written here, I have given rest to reason one. What a blessed relief.
Ricochet Reason Two. I cannot help but wonder about my followers—my blog followers. At one point, they numbered well over 100, and the blog had more than 5,000 visits from people in exactly 100 countries. Not bad for a blog dedicated to the challenges of research, specifically—for now, at least—to the challenge of identifying the author of a group of noteworthy and heretofore pseudonymous Colonial American essays.
Are any of the faithful still with me? I wonder.
And if I post, will they read what I have to say? Will anyone? And if no one reads, will I have written anything at all, really?
It is very much the same as the proverbial old question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Philosophers have long argued that sound, colour, taste, smell and touch are all secondary qualities which exist only in our minds. We have no basis for our common-sense assumption that these secondary qualities reflect or represent reality as it really is. So, if we interpret the word ‘sound’ to mean a human experience rather than a physical phenomenon, then when there is nobody around there is a sense in which the falling tree makes no sound at all. […] Without a measuring device to record it, there is a sense in which the recognisable properties of quantum particles such as electrons do not exist, just as the falling tree makes no sound at all. (Jim Baggett, Quantum Theory: If a Tree Falls in the Forest …).
Followers, be my measure. If you are out there, measure me with comment.
And if you are not yet following, follow. (I am reminded of the Iowa corn farmer in Field of Dreams and the voice that he heard telling him to build a baseball diamond, “If you build it, he will come.” The farmer built it, and they came. Perhaps in my rebuilding, my followers will come. If you do, measure me with your comments, too.)
Just by writing what I have written here, I have given rest to reason two as well. Again, what a blessed relief.
Ricochet Reason Three. Of the two envelopes waiting to be opened—those two parcels that will take my Humourist research to new heights—which shall I open first? The one from Scotland measuring 14 x 10/16 inches and weighing a hefty 17.21 ounces? (Is bigger better?) Or the one from England, measuring 6 x 3/4 inches and weighing a nearly weightless 1.16 ounce? (Do good things really come in small packages?)
To give rest to reason three—and be thrice blessed—I must open both envelopes.
Perhaps what I face is like picking petals off a daisy: “I love him. I love him not.” However, in this instance, both envelopes are equally good and the last petal will be an affirmation.
Or, maybe, a more apt comparison would be to Frank Stockton’s famous American short story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” published in The Century magazine in November 1882. In the story, a young man must choose between two doors. Behind one, a beautiful lady. Behind the other, an awful, relentless tiger.
Stockton leaves his readers with an open ending:
And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door,—the lady, or the tiger?
For me, both doors—both envelopes, if you will—are equally good and both will be auspicious and bodacious.
Unlike Stockton, however, I will be straightforward and honest. I will let you know what I find not only in the first envelope but also in the second. In fact, I will chronicle each and every detail as I open the envelopes and as I discover the joys that await me.
This I promise: in next week’s post, I will write all, right here.
Well, lok who it is! The Good Professor! I am still a faithful follower and a hanger-on-of-your-every-word…I just need to go back and read this post slower.
I hope you are well and educating and entertaining the masses as usual!
Steve, Steve, Steve! What can I say, other than “Thank you, faithful friend!” I had hoped to have a comment from you, and, indeed, you were first! “Educating and entertaining the masses as usual.” You are too funny! Suffice it to say that I am still trying, ever hopeful to one day get it right!
Keep trying…I know you can do it!
I’m trying to revise a bunch of stuff for another book. I hate revising…
Bayleigh is now in 7th grade! I’ve used your helpful phrase when commenting on some of her writing: “As the good Professor says, ‘What would happen if you left this out?”
I can’t believe that Bayleigh is in the 7th grade already! Keep sharing the “good Professor’s” advice with her, and she will surely turn out to be the great writer she’s destined to become!
I thought “lok” was Sut-speak!
OK. I read it s l o w e r and have a few comments:
1. I acutally dreampt “blue-feather-pigeon-happy” about a week before you so please add a footnote.
2. Don’t open either package. Surely you have numersous emails to tend to, Facebook and Twitter to check endlessly, or dogs to let outside.
3. If the reasons in #2 don’t stop you from the packages, remember that is is almost fruitcake season!
1. Oh, no, good friend! I dreamt “blue-feather-pigeon happy” eons ago, and I have shared it with lots of my classes to make one point or another–I’m not sure what point! So, no doubt you HEARD it from me, RECOLLECTED it in a dream, and thereby PROVED (I am sure) Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious!
2. I MUST open both packages. Once I do, I’ll be able to send queries to publishers!
3. I remembered fruitcake season right after last year’s fruitcake season, and I have had one “ripening” in the refrigerator since then!
It was so nice to read this today! I still follow the blog, getting email updates and enjoy hearing what you are up to. I miss the writing classes but am staying crazy busy these days.
Thanks, Wendy, for your post and for continuing to be a faithful follower! I had hoped to see you online in my Creative Writing I class this fall. Maybe this coming Spring for Creative Writing II? It’s so exciting because I am offering it as an Open Education Resource class, so I have lots of flexibility with the reading selections. Plus, students have class materials for free! Spread the word!
So nice to see the WR ricochet back!
Chris, it’s excellent to see you here and to know that you are still following the blog! I had a blast ricocheting back to my research cosmos!
I for one, am flabbergasted that you referenced Tolkien! I am only aware of his phantasmagorical novels. I’ll have to check out his poetry and hope it proves to be a more interesting read. Sean and I have our own favorite words. They tend to change at times but I always have loved chartreuse and charcuterie! As well as how Southerners pronounce libation. Happy hunting and welcome back! Start with the small package!
Thanks, Janet! So I flabbergasted you! Isn’t flabbergasted a wonderful word? I’m glad that you and Sean have favorite words. I love chartreuse and charcuterie, too. So, you think I should start with the nearly weightless package? Stay tuned. This coming week you will see where I begin!
I myself was flummoxed when I saw that he referenced Tolkien! Only last week he said something disparaging to me about “novels,” but then he …
You are so funny! Disparaging? Not really! It was an outright statement that the novel is NOT my favorite literary form! So there: I’ve gone public! Even so, I do read novels, and I love a good many of them! In fact, I have just read the Great American Novel! I’m so turned on by it that I have read it twice already, and I am about to read it a third time! Soon and very soon, I plan to write a review of it, proclaiming it as the Great American Novel. Oh, do not ask me now to tell you what it is. That would take away all the fun!
Bravo Professor Kendrick! Good to see you back to blogging!
What a joy, Connie, to hear from you! I am delighted to be blogging again, and I am eager to see what unfolds this week!
Has this researcher been rewired? Glad to see you back!
I have been rewired! And my rewiring is related, in part, to what I’m doing with my teaching. In my American Literature classes and in my Creative Writing class, I’m using Open Education Resources that I have designed/developed just for my classes. The research that was required put me in the perfect frame of mind to return to my blog. It’s nearly an extension of my teaching, and I’m loving it. When I’m not teaching, I often find myself thinking about my blog: “It’s waiting for me!”
I would have responded earlier but I’ve been on a blissful writers retreat to Ossabaw Island where I would have seen an alligator if one had been home to visitors, but I did see three wild pigs which Mark, the handsome guide, said was an even rarersight. Also two roseate spoonbills.
But back to your new blog post and those two envelopes! How often I have wondered what was in them! But I daren’t complain because I have a few unopened envelopes myself. Sometimes the time is not right; sometimes it’s best not to know.
Alligators? Wild pigs? Roseate spoonbills? Handsome guide? Are you certain that you were at a writers retreat! (Joking aside, I have explored the writers retreat, and it sounds FAB.)
I’m still wondering what’s in those envelopes! This Friday, however, the wait will be over. I will know. You will know. Everyone will know.
And then we will see what doors open. The envelopes’ contents will lead to exciting new research adventures!
Thoughts and words. Ricochet. Energy and speed. Impact and ping and clatter, rollicking beads across the basement floor, foot of the stairs from the cellar door. Ricochet. Come back for more.
Thanks, Morgan, for such a spirited and poetic comment! DO come back for more! Tomorrow, the envelopes!
It feels like we are returning to a good spot, though “wired” reminds me of your energy and impatience. Your return to the envelopes. Sudden. Yet years later. Not yet opened. Wait. Friends and the curious gather. Envelopes, from which will spill. Words. And the future.
Ricochet. I love the comfortable softness the “h” brings, backing up the “c.” And not to mention the bitter hard “t” sent waaay back to Gallic shores.
But for today, the “c” and “h” I choose meet in echo, the echo faint memory of papers, neglected envelopes of echo hope or duty, echo love of words well organized, and echo friends and companions joining in the echo search. Today. I will wait. Expecting. To hear.
Thanks for such a spirited and playful response! I am delighted to be in Elizabeth’s company! And I love how you astutely transformed “ricochet” into “echo”.
Today I opened the envelopes. I hope that my discoveries there satisfy your expectations as much as they do mine!
Excellent dreams, Professor. I have left a brief caution or two, knowing your expectant exuberance and joy as cakes still bake in the oven, subject to hasty prodding or inspection. Or the pull of gravity. You certainly know that I am confident your inclination will hold true. But this is fact and fiction too. A crafted story. The tension, a curve of expectation and conflict. And surprise!
Yes. Interesting. An echo is a gentler form of richochet. A reminder instead of a sudden rude awakening. Maybe.
Words – the best. It still amazes me, at times, how so many people are able to rearrange them so differently to share their thoughts, ideas, tell their stories, etc. In addition to reading words, I love to study them. I want to learn where they came from, how we decided to call a fork a fork or a table a table – just examples, but you get it. While I absolutely love the words flabbergasted and flummoxed, my most favorite word in the world is gobsmacked. It’s such a great word that conveys an immediate feeling that needs no definition. It sometimes makes me sad that we do not speak or write the way we used to. There are so many fantastic words out there that now lay by the wayside as we so often communicate in acronyms and symbols now. Words are beautiful, they have the power to paint a picture, to express emotion, to describe the world around us. I wrote a paper in a linguistics class one time asking how we have moved from Shakespeare to “Yo, ‘sup?”
Anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts and words. Your writing brings me back to the way we should utilize our language and all of the wonderful words at our disposal.
Thank you so much for your wonderful comment! You have a powerful way with words yourself, you know! I love the approach that you took with your linguistics paper, and I’m betting that it earned you an “A”!