Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Made Up Words

This is what me and some friends (mostly me, Rachel, and Mariza) did at Quiet Storm in Bloomfield. We played real scrabble, but that wasn't nearly challenging enough. So we decided to become lexicographers of a sort and make up our own words in a cross word puzzle format. Below the picture are some of the definitions. Also, the blank tile is pronounced as a clicking sound.

  • Laonukeleles: ukeleles from Laos that have a tendancy to explode.
  • Metagon: a hexagon that defines itself.
  • Shnyl: someone who is shy, but snobbily so.
  • Banaliter: even more banal that a banality.
  • Foremedios: the person you go to for a cure.
  • Qvelt: someone who is Svelt, but in a more flamboyant way.
  • Widgety: having the properties of a liquid nitrogen produced foam., also being fidgety do to an accumulation of this foam.

This may seem silly, but it brings up an important issue. The power in naming things. When colonizers came to new lands, they imposed their names and made up their own names for things that already had names from the indigenous peoples. When God named things in the beginning in the Bible, they appeared (let there be light, and all that). The German author Jenny Erpenbeck writes somewhat on this topic in her new novel, Book of Words.
I had the opportunity to hear Jenny Erpenbeck and her translator, Susan Bernofsky last night at Chatham University. Here is a small excerpt from the new novel (Read a larger excerpt here):

Eyes, nose, mouth. How often my mother shut her eyes the instant before my
index finger hit its mark, how often my father opened his mouth to show me what
a mouth is and then closed it around my finger as if he were going to bite, but
he didn't bite. If you wanted to play ball with someone's head, only one thing
would get in the way: the nose. My father's teeth are very white, and when I
probe around inside his dark mouth with my finger, they feel damp and hard. I
see a tree and say tree, I smell the cake my mother bakes on Sunday and say
cake, I hear a bird twittering in the garden, and my mother says: That's right,
a bird. We put the cake into our mouths, it vanishes there, mouth, eyes and
nose: holes, the beginnings of paths, no one knows quite where they lead.
Stomach, my mother says, but I've never seen my stomach from the inside, at
least what I eat comes out again on the other end, but what about the things I
put into my eyes, where do they go, are all of them supposed to fit inside my
head, even if I were to stack them up the way our housekeeper stacks the
laundry, folding it and placing one piece atop the other, there still wouldn't
be room, I don't think, and therefore I keep saying all the things as I see them
so they'll change course inside my head and go out again through my mouth. Shit,
I say later when I see what has become of the cake. That's a filthy word, my
mother says, wiping my bottom. Don't say words like that, she says and flushes.
But it's something we even ate. That was before, my mother says, and we go back
to the other room. So the cake has gotten dirty on its way through my body. You
can't look at it that way, my father says, it doesn't have anything to do with
you, it's just a matter of the word. I'm not allowed to say it. No, my mother
says, words like that should never cross the lips of a young lady. Eyes. Nose.
Mouth. So it's precisely the things that are filthy that are supposed to be
stacked up and stored in my head and aren't allowed to change course and go out
again through my mouth. But, I say, if I see a foot that is dirty and say foot,
then that's a filthy word too, isn't it, but my mother says no, the word itself
is clean. Aha. It's only the word shit I'm not supposed to say, but now that's
really quite enough, my mother says.


John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

This sounds remarkably like Anarchy Scrabble, a game I played in High School. Words were legal if you could a) pronounce them, and b) use them in a sentence. The one I remember most fondly was 'simoulie,' which was described as the singular of 'simoleans.'