I love words. The English language, at times, gives us the ability to employ them to our own advantage.
My daughter Ilene once used the word “adamant” to describe immovable rocks. Some time later I used “adamant” in a poem to describe unyielding red bricks. My daughter Lisa, a teacher, is adamant that “adamant” cannot be used in those contexts!
Isn’t it interesting how language can be adapted to give different feelings to different situations? For example, a word I love to play with is “insinuate.” One can insinuate oneself into a chair, i.e. bend and curve, and one can insinuate an idea surreptitiously into a conversation. Delightful!!
There are some like my late mother-in-law, whom we dubbed “Mrs. Malaprop,” who mishear and misuse language to the delight of those listening. Once, long ago, when my brother-in-law returned from a lengthy European trip and didn’t contact her, she excused him by saying he was suffering from “JET LEGS.” “Jet legs” is now a colloquialism used by our entire family...much more satisfying than jet lag!! Grandma Jennie also gave us a huge guffaw when she wrote to my sister-in-law and me of the day she would pass from this world to “that great behind in the sky!” A slip of the pen? Possibly, or perhaps that’s what she heard.
I never believed the old “cross-eyed bear” story until it happened to me. Many years ago I wrote a poem, “De Novo,” which started with “The cross I bear seems heavy now,” and after reading it to a group of family members, I was surprised when a son-in-law approached me and said, although he really liked the poem, what did I mean by the “cross-eyed bear?” We obviously hear what we want or expect to hear, turning the “great beyond,” for my mother-in-law, into the “great behind!”
The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said, “The word is half his who speaks it and half his who hears it.” Grandma Jennie was salt of the earth, and her malaprops help us remember her with great love, joy and amusement. She enriched our lives and “jet legs”’ will be passed from generation to generation in her memory.
Words are our emissaries to the world and, perhaps someday, to other worlds. Think of the elegance of the Gettysburg Address, any of William Shakespeare’s soliloquies, the King James version of the Bible. The hearing impaired use sign language, the vision impaired, Braille. Whether words are spoken, seen, written, or felt they convey the thoughts, ideas and deepest feelings of the human race.