Monday, April 5, 2010


For a food aficionado, there’s nothing like a well-balanced meal topped off by a fitting beverage. Creating the perfect meal is as delicate a formula as following chemical equations to create new compounds; it’s a science of precision, balance and portions. The cook must ensure that not one flavor overpowers the others on the plate, that the tastes blend and pair together yet create such a contrast that all flavor sensations are fulfilled when the fork finally rests upon the plate. Finding a new food to add to the repertoire is a cook’s divinity; it’s that ability to expand and diversify however still achieve that same satisfaction that defines a true master. Although the thrill a unique flavor bursting on the tips my taste buds is an irresistible satisfaction that pleases my pallet, I find the sensation infallibly usurped by that of the discovery of a new word.

Though my obsession with language, etymology and linguistic may seem to waver on the nerdy side, the importance and power of our daily diction is so frequently overlooked. To apply the term “word” broadly in order to include names only deepens the value held by every unique string of letters. In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, John Proctor relinquishes his freedom and his life, refusing to sign his name to confess satanic activity crying out, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!” We assign feelings and judgments to names, or words. Without knowing anything about a food, a place, a person or the meaning of a word, the sound- be it cacophonic or euphonic- can blindly sway us to form an opinion on the object or administer a guess at its meaning. Words draw us in. Foodies exploring new restaurants make selections based on the words describing a dish. It’s not a list of ingredients included in each dish that causes our mouths to water when browsing menus, but how the description paints the flavors.

Foodies scour farmers markets and ethnic restaurants for ingredients hailing the bizarre, the uncommon and the fresh. Wordies scour books, radio, newspapers and daily conversation for the same, yet our cravings don’t require caloric intake to satisfy. Finding a new word isn’t as simple as researching synonyms for a common adjective- a true gem is coming across a single word that can eliminate the use of an entire phrase, a word that encapsulates an entire emotion or thought. Each language has words that will serve this purpose, though these words generally do not cross language boundaries and are dependent on the culture. When I lived in Spain, the freedom to hop between English and Spanish with my bilingual friends, exploiting the convenience of the two languages was bliss: the Anglo influence in English and the Roman/Muslim influence in Spanish provided a dynamic balance with a multitude of proficient words that easily eliminate any excess.

Being a wordie has nothing to do with finding big words. A wordie is someone who enjoys finding something so basic that carries such powerful meaning. I always was a critic of classmates in school that would flaunt their SAT preparation by decorating their essays with obtrusive and obnoxiously large words. A big word may seem impressive because it spans 10 or 11 letters, but among a string of malformed and ill-described concepts, these titanic words just look like blemishes. The point of writing is to describe or express a concept or idea. I most highly revere the writers that are able to accurately and efficiently portray his or her message, not those that send me reaching for my dictionary. Great cooks don't throw in impressive new dishes just to showcase their ability to make them unless they have the right balance among the other parts of the meal.

Two of my favorite words: unanimity and ubiquitous. Just the thought of their potential sends me reeling for the {porqué} to write another entry. I do admit I am guilty of using these words in most writing, but I justify my repetition through one more comparison to foodies: despite their quest to try new foods, aren't all foodies guilty of caving and deferring to an old favorite?

No comments: