A good friend of mine, an accomplished writer, once told me that she loved words so much she’d like to bathe in them. It may be slightly wacky but it certainly is a brilliant image: you turn on the tap and out come your favourite words, rushing and swirling, the bath every so slowly filling up until it’s time to take off your clothes and lie down amongst the little bits of language, soaking in it, all those wonderful sounds and meanings touching your skin, perhaps even seeping through to your bones.
I have a handful of favourite words. Home is one, in fact I saw it on a book cover in a bookshop last week and it made me stop, not because the cover was especially well designed or the font was eye-catching but because the word itself. Home. It is such a complete word, which I know is a problematic thing to say as all words are complete, even one like arrivin’ as in ‘arrivin’ home after a big day out’, even when it’s missing its ‘g’, but still home as a word really gets me going. It’s the sound, it’s the shape, it’s the meaning, and it’s the fact that for ever and a day it’s something that I’ll be searching out.
Community is another personal favourite. Derived from the Middle English and Old French of ‘communitas’, meaning ‘common’, as in ‘have something in common’, this is truly a very special word. (Now I think about it, common is another word that I like very much, partly because of its almost symmetry – it’s such an architectural word – but also because of the sound, as if it’s a spice, as if it’s a way of moving.) But back to community. Like home, this is a word that can stop me in my tracks; it can make my body tingle as if I’ve just swigged something very pleasant. Yes, if it was possible to bathe in this word, then I would, I’d get naked and immerse myself in it.
Another word I’d love to immerse myself in is acquiesce. This is a funny one, strange funny not hilarious funny, because I don’t use it very often, actually I can’t recall the last time I used acquiesce, but my God it’s a winning word. It may mean ‘to agree’ or ‘submit’ or even ‘comply’, but with this one it’s entirely the sound. Listen: ack-wee-ess. It could be a bird call, or something on a menu, as in ‘Roasted half spatchcock with Potato and Chive Gnocchi with Acquiesce Sauce’.
Yes, it would be great to be able to lower myself into a bath filled to the brim with words, although I’m sure if I told non-writer/reader friends that I’d tried to do this then they’d probably wrap me up in a sleeping bag and drop me off at a hospital for special people. But heck, what’s life without a bit of risk. I’m going to head to the bathroom right now and do it: put in the plug, turn on the tap, and close my eyes. If words come out, favourite words, you may never see me again – I’ll be pruning up in a lovely mix of home, community and acquiesce, with a touch of common to make it anything but.
(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, December 6 2008)