Shunning the Frumious Bandersnatch; or, Finding the Right Words

I was listening to something the other day when it occurred to me that the writer had used all these multisyllabic words that were buzzing around my face like annoying flies, getting in the way of the words that were actually saying something. (I was reminded of a regular commentator on my local public radio station who would lugubriously and with ponderous solemnity pontificate his cogitations and delibrations with as many multisyllabic appellations as he could prestidigitate. I would turn the radio off when he came on and snort several good monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon words at it.)
Suddenly, inside all those words flailing around, I heard a phrase of five short words that all by themselves made a satisfying gong that shattered the buzzing of those long words, that resonated with meanings and suggestions and layers.

This is what writing, and its vital partner editing, is all about: shuffling through the noises to find the satisfying and resounding gong.

In the structure of a poem, each word, as an I-beam or a column, needs to be carrying weight and be balanced with the others, or be deliberately off-balance. Multisyllabic words have to be used carefully because they can visually and sonically outweigh or overshadow other words, rocking the whole enterprise, and not in a good way. They also run the risk of sounding self-conscious. (Why use “utilize” when “use” will do, except that you think it sounds fancier?) (Or maybe you need three beats in that line, I suppose. That might be a justification…but a pretty shaky one.)

Similarly, grand and abstract words can weigh too much: love, for example, soul, universe. Even “moon” has to be handled with care. (I was advised once to not use the moon at all, as it’s been soooooo overdone. But, I mean, geez, I can’t NOT talk about the moon.)

It takes patience (and humility), I think, to not get caught up in my own extensive vocabulary options, to instead wait for, or mine for the often more simple utterance that says more than its parts.

And then to have the courage to surround it with silence, the vital partner of speech.


One thought on “Shunning the Frumious Bandersnatch; or, Finding the Right Words

  1. You’re so right about those big ass words. I almost didn’t read this because the title sounded so pretentious. Glad I gave it a chance. There’s gold in them there hills, woman! I’ve been thinking of you and Bob lately, hoping you are both doing well. Now that the days are getting longer and Mueller’s to do list is getter shorter, I do believe spring will show up in a couple of months. Currently, hell is freezing over in northern Michigan. Love you guys! Former neighbor and troublemaker, B.B.

    Sent from my iPhone



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