Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Words to Make the Heart Sing

Tolkien was fond of pointing out that the words "cellar door" were more beautiful than the word "beautiful." And he was right - if you don't believe me try saying "cellar door" aloud six or seven times until you hear just the sound of the words, not the thing they represent.

Certain words are like that. The sound of the word itself evokes a response in the imagination that goes beyond its dictionary meaning. I once read a lovely essay about the word "dauncerly" - the author had misheard the "dawn's early light" in the national anthem and for years believed it was an adjective meaning a fluttering, delicate movement such as one sees when shorebirds flirt and play in the water's edge at twilight. Now whenever I see light playing through leaves, or glimmering off the water in the evening I think "dauncerly."

My word today is Gonaive (gon-ai-eve). Go on. Say it out loud. Roll the sound of it around on your tongue. Shouldn't it be the name of some gold bedecked queen carried on a litter by six strapping slaves? Or perhaps a city, ancient, noble, and proud, crowded, stinking of donkeys and spice merchants, with a golden temple rising out of the center. Perhaps the city was named after the queen, built in her honor by an emperor whose rule is long forgotten. Only this city lives on in the remnants of their empire, thriving at the crossroads of a thousand paths, the queen's name remembered only in its name and a song that the children sing in the marketplace.

So, tell me your words.  What words do you like to roll around on your tongue? What words inspire stories in your mind?

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