Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Lexical Rainbows

Sometimes there are plenty of words that span a spectrum of nuances. You can spread the words out like a deck of cards and choose the one you want.

Bright, intelligent, clever, good, wise, sparky, precocious, talented, gifted, advanced… pick a card, any card – as long as you have a corresponding set of connotations, you’ll be fine.

But sometimes, the language lets me down. Sometimes I find we are a few words short of a lexical rainbow. Most of the time I am looking out of the window, looking at the full range of Scottish precipitation:

…mist, fog, smirr, haar, drizzle, rain, sleet, snow, hail…

Sometimes… in fact REALLY often, there is a subset of precipitation that I am at a loss to describe. There should be another word for horizontal rain. There are certain kinds of softish hail that pass me by. And hit me. There is that damp air that is a kind of invisible-yet-frozen mist that penetrates your bones in moments. And there are different TYPES of drizzle…

I presume that there used to be words for these. Or there are more words for different types of precipitation and I just don’t know them.

Maybe it is a good thing, and I should be driven to generate new and refreshing imagery!

Or maybe I am in a sinister spiral towards Newspeak where people are simply thick or brainy and the weather is good or bad…


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4 thoughts on “Lexical Rainbows

  1. I think we are all spiraling toward Newspeak, if you think about the level of conversation and vocabulary–including conceptual vocabulary–rendered in novels of the last century or two. I’m grateful to Stephen Glazier’s monumental one-man effort to reverse that trend with Word Menu–incredible that he was only forty-four when he died.

    That said, I agree that the dearth of ready-made words can sometimes, as you suggest, be a benefit: it forces us to close our eyes to see what the thing was REALLY like, and to cast our net of words over that glistening something in the moment, to reveal its particular shape or feel–as you did with the hail and damp above; even if our own description is a struggle, there’s something important being rendered in that effort. (If we have a word as an easy label, on the other hand, it sometimes acts as cliche does.)

    In searching for the best word or phrase to capture what we see, writers can practice the equivalent of the defamiliarization exercise visual artists are sometimes given in school: students are told to stare at some ordinary object (a Styrofoam cup, for example) until it stops looking like the thing you drink weak coffee from, and starts looking like a porous, glabrous slice of entropy in cross section (or whatever it is they see when they really look at it). Then, presumably, students will draw the object from an original perspective, instead of cranking out the off-the-rack cliché rendering that first comes to mind. The stock image–and sometimes the stock word, even if it’s precise as a photograph–can fail to render the meaning of the thing in the moment.

  2. One of the reasons I love French so much is because of it’s vocabulary. I had a professor who said what a French writer will spend a paragraph describing, an American writer can say in two sentences. I do find that when I say a word more than a few times, it starts to lose it’s meaning and becomes just a jumble of letters. I do like your imagery, lexicon rainbow, it is very visual and pretty.

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