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sign, signifier, signified.

February 5, 2013

i’m having trouble writing about things that don’t seem to exist. i was reading an article about words that exist in other languages that do not exist in english – seen here – and it thrilled me. (as it did with a lot of other word nerds because this made the rounds on my tweeter and facebook.) i never was one for semiotics – my brain cut out during my literary criticism classes, i couldn’t read bakhtin or saussure because it was BORING and i had other things to read, things that i actually wanted to delve into. and i still don’t think i would willingly read them at this point in my life. but i can see their (vague) usefulness, kind of, when i sit and think about words that exist within english and words that do not exist within english.




there are things that exist that i can’t put into words, and it’s infinitely frustrating. i’ve been told my whole writing life (thus far) that sparseness is good, and that you should be able to say something in less words as opposed to more. it’s a problem for me because i like the verbal spew, and my thesis is basically one big verbal spew and now it needs to be shorn down. but there are little actions or tics or interactions that i observe that don’t have a descriptor and so cannot be concisely summed up in my writing.

i kind of love observing people. i tend to be reactive, but a new thing i’m trying out is the standing five count. if someone asks you something you don’t want to answer, don’t answer. wait for at least five seconds. i’ve been trying to use this in my day to day life, even if i’m not directly involved in an interaction. if i step back and listen, there’s so much that becomes evident in the silence that spans between. interactions come to the forefront, become more obvious. the tiniest movements of someone’s hand or mouth or the tips of their hair become obvious, too. maybe i was never much of an observer before, and i’m still working on it, but there is power in using your peepers.

anyway, why don’t we have a word for the moment when two people stare at each other from across the span of a bed, awkward and fumbling with the hems of their shirts, wanting to kiss but nervous to make the first foray into the no-man’s land of linen? why don’t we have a word for the gut and pelvic floor clench we get when something excites us? or a word for the prickles up the cervical spine and the back of the neck and the meridian of the scalp? why don’t we have a word for the last bite of food on a plate that we know we shouldn’t finish but we’re in the state of just wanting to taste? or a word for the specific type of scrape on skin that one gets from tree bark, from climbing trees? or the excitement and pride one feels when icing the uppermost tier of a pink cake? the feeling of fine sand between the third and fourth finger? the paralysis someone gets when something clunks outside their bedroom door at the witching hour in the middle of the night and they become immobile with that primordial fear?

(there could be words for these things that i don’t know. it’s possible. oh, if there are, please let me know!)


in my first story i ever workshopped at UBC, i used the word “birdsnared.” well, it might have had a hyphen. “bird-snared”? i remember someone in class looking mildly surprised and saying “that’s not a word, is it?” not in an accusatory way at all, but just curious. and i said “er… no.” not that i’m a word pioneer at all, not at all like carroll’s the jabberwocky, which come to think of i have definitely written about on here before…. so maybe the pioneering of words is actually kind of seductive to me.  i just remember thinking “well, no, it’s not a word, but now that i’ve slapped it together, isn’t it one?” it’s like when people call other people “real writers.” as if writing isn’t declarative and definitive – if you breathe, you’re a breather. if you write, you’re a writer. the action defines what you are. therefore, if i took a word that wasn’t a word and made it a word, it’s a word – at least in my piece, for that moment, for that particular usage that i needed it for.

yuck. philosophical word discussion.

anyway, it’s funny, because i’m strict as hell with grammar and spelling – i believe that in order to house the best meaning, a piece of writing should be clean, clear, edited, tsik-tsak as my ukrainian father would say. errors distract from the punch and power of a piece, from the meaning. i’ll be stuck on a dangling modifier and therefore won’t fully appreciate the punchline or the resolution. a comma splice makes me grind my teeth, as does a spelling mistake. AT the same time, i believe in making up words, in sticking a hyphen in wherever you want to. bird-snared, indeed. there is something to be said for the organization of a well-edited piece, but there is also something to be said for mixing words around like frankenstein’s creature in order to get the best-sounding result. sometimes words have to be invented or deconstructed and reconstructed in order to get that good feeling in the mouth (i refuse to use the word “mouth-feel”, it’s pretentious). sometimes a word fits perfectly between the teeth and that’s a good thing.

is this because i’m young and green?? is this because i still have so much writing to do? is this existential, philosophical angst all just because i’m only just really starting writing and publishing, and therefore thinking about writing and publishing? i spend a lot of my time thinking about stuff like this. words are kind of always in my noggin, circling around like birds. and now they’re here, on the page.

One Comment leave one →
  1. aballingall permalink
    February 5, 2013 11:58 am

    Love this post. I have the same verbal spew problem, but sometimes I find there’s some interesting bits floating in my spew.

    Keep up the sweet blogging!

    Sent from my iPhone

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