“Hey… What are y’all’s favorite fancy words?”
This seemingly random question came up a few days ago as I was studying with friends, one of whom was writing a paper and desperately stretching to meet a minimum word count. As people exhausted the breadth of their SAT vocabulary lists (plethora, myriad, halcyon), my mind drifted in a slightly different direction.
I’ve always loved words. As a little kid, my mom would joke that I only ate cereal in the mornings so I could read off the back of the box while I sat at the kitchen table. Same goes for the shampoo bottles. I lived for spelling bees, not so much for the glaring spotlight of my middle school auditorium, but for the always satisfying queries I could pose: “What’s the language of origin? Could I have the definition please? Can you use it in a sentence?” To this day, I’m fascinated by the fact that there can be a difference between being happy and jubilant, being sad and crestfallen, and being tired and being depleted. I can be consumed by eleutheromania or sonder or anemoia or any of the infinitely many hyper-specific emotions language has the strength to perfectly encapsulate. I’ve always considered myself a pretty black-and-white person, but if there’s one thing that my logophile tendencies have taught me, it’s that it’s okay for things to not fit in neat, tidy, and familiar categories, because even if they don’t, there’s probably a word for it. The complexity we can convey in just a few letters both astounds and excites me, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the satisfaction that comes over me when I know I’ve found exactly what I want to say.
Do we lean into this complexity or do we reject it? Sometimes, we want to avoid the messiness of conveying precise meaning. We let our words fall flat, tumbling out of our mouths before we can think about if that’s really what we mean. Sometimes there are words that are really hard to say, so we say something safe and inoffensive. Sometimes finding the right words is hard, so we don’t say anything at all. It is all too easy to silence ourselves, to tell ourselves that our voices don’t matter, or that we don’t have anything important to say. It doesn’t matter if the words are exactly right; I’ve learned that the important part is still daring to say them. Even if what we are trying to say gets lost in translation or misinterpreted, the struggle to clarify what we mean to say can provide valuable insight on both ends of the conversation.
Every time I sit down to write this column, inevitably there will be at least one moment—often more—where I agonize over what to say, how to say it, and if I should even say it at all. Depending on who you ask, this column is a waste of words, a waste of space, a waste of both my mental energy and yours. But I’d like to think there’s something valuable—whether you’re writing or reading them—in wrestling with words, struggling to tame them, and overcoming their nuances and subtleties to grasp some tidbit of emotion or intelligence.
It might sound silly, but one of my favorite things is sending a text and seeing the three little bubbles pop up as whoever I’m talking to composes a response. I love imagining the effort that goes into the text—whether they’re backspacing frantically or perusing emojis for the perfect one (my personal favorite is the smiling cowboy). I’m sure most of the time, whoever it is rattles off an almost automatic response, sans ‘fancy’ words and no more than a few seconds of thought behind their message. Despite this slightly less exciting reality, those three bubbles remind me that even for something as simple as a text, there is beauty in the process, not just the finished product.
Ann Gehan is a Trinity first-year. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays.