Speak To Me

Beautiful. Hurtful. Hopeful.

Each of these words evokes a set of emotions or thoughts within an individual. “Beautiful” can refer to the physical beauty of a face or a sunset, or it can refer to abstract beauty such as a piece of music.

All of them contain the suffix “-ful,” meaning “full of.” In each example, the base words have different origins. “Beautiful” means “full of beauty.” The word “beauty” goes back to its Latin origin of “bellus.” “Hurt” possibly goes back to an Old Norse word “hrutr” meaning “ram.” Meanwhile, “hope” doesn’t have an exact origin, but it is believed to be Germanic. “Hopa” in Old English, “hoop” in Dutch, or “hoffen” in Old German.

I appreciate etymology. Etymology is the study of the origin of words and, also, how their meanings have changed throughout history. As a writer, I have a vested interest in words.

The choice of words, whether in spoken or written language, dictate the mood and interpretation of an exchange. I like to think that every interaction through language is a blank canvas. The basis for the interaction is unimportant. It can be an academic or philosophical discussion, a light-hearted conversation between friends, or quiet pillow talk with a lover. But every one of these begins as a blank canvas. Before words are spoken or written, there is nothing. The words chosen are paint with which we color and create. The result might be a dull, unimaginative still life. Or it could be a vibrant, abstract piece that thrills us and allows us to see something differently.

There is a reason poetry is considered the “language of love.” It revolves around the use of language intended to evoke strong emotion. To this point, a scene from Dead Poet’s Society comes to mind. “A man is not ‘very tired.’ He is ‘exhausted.’ And don’t use ‘very sad.’ Use…exactly, ‘morose.’”

Being born in the U.S., and not being an early-generation immigrant, I was taught English and spent a few years of high school and college learning a foreign language. Like a lot of American adults, I’ve done a less-than-stellar job of retaining that foreign language. Although, those “dirty” words that were never taught in class never escaped me. Female genitalia and curse-word knowledge galore up in this hat rack.

I learned Spanish, which seems to be the most useful foreign language in the U.S. I found it to be a fairly simple one to understand and interpret. Between written and spoken languages, there are several cognates. For example, the English “beauty,” as I said before, originates from the Latin word “bellus.” In Spanish, it is “belleza.” In Italian, it is “bellezza.” In French, it is “beaute.” Even in different languages, the words are represented similarly. They began in old written form and have evolved over time into different languages with like properties. Language is enchanting in that way.

For my book, however, I have begun researching a very different language. ASL, or American Sign Language, is something altogether unique. And it is elegant.

It’s a language not based on letters pieced together (the alphabet as an exception), but one that communicates through the imagery from what is seen or felt. It is the purest language I’ve ever run across. ASL encapsulates the wonder of language for me. Conversations are had by hand gestures and facial expressions that emote experiences. That’s a conversation.

An added bonus to researching ASL is that my daughter seems interested and it’s fun to teach her random signs. The other day, as we were on the way home from her school, we were working on a few. After being caught up in it for a bit, she started laughing and said she hoped no one was watching us because we would look like insane people. Probably. Or Italian women. I’m okay with either.

The English word “dance” is thought to come from Old French “dancier,” which possibly comes from Low Frankish “dintjan” and related to Old Frisian “dintje,” meaning to “tremble or quiver.” If you’ve ever been to a rave or a club playing hip-hop, that sounds about right. If you’ve ever seen me dance, “horrific” should also have been included in the origin of the word. In ASL, one simply holds his or her non-dominant hand in front, palm up, and points the first and middle fingers of the dominant hand down at the palm, like legs. Then he or she sways them back and forth like a pendulum. The image is like a person swaying on air. I dig that. Simple. Graceful.

This is how language should be.

And to keep with the dirty words, thanks to a recent conversation with a friend, I learned that the words for “fellatio” are just what you’d think they would be.

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