Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Extreme “More Than Words”
 Cameo “Word Up”
 Bonnie Tyler “Holding Out For A Hero”
 Frank Sinatra “My Way”
 The Trashmen “Surfin’ Bird”
Words are just so much darned fun to play with. Indeed, since I began my tenure as Keeper, I have done precisely that and at every given opportunity. Should you be familiar with my work then you’ll be only too aware that I have a tendency to meddle with their formation and put my own spin on them and I’m fairly assured that William Shakespeare is turning in his topsoil as I write this, likely dreading what damage I’m going to inflict on the English language next. This evening I received two separate compliments on the way I turn a phrase and I promptly clicked my heels as it happens to be one of my most cherished pastimes. Thus, after stroking my chin pensively to remind myself that I’m still no closer to growing that goatee, I decided to take a closer look at the tools we have at our disposal and have a little fun with the theory.
My primary consideration was to how many words actually exist in the great scheme of things and statistics suggest that total to be 1,025,109.8. Firstly, who the fuck invited decimals anyhoots? What next? Throw in a dash of algebra and our old friend trigonometry? I would pay a grand sum to learn this .8 of a word just so I can banish it to the sidelines until it has the decency to return fully formed. Secondly, whoever is responsible for compiling said dictionary needs to wake up and smell the ball sweat. I suspect that one million was considered a significant enough milestone. After all, we can’t have thousands of rogue words bounding about like they own the place. Since they decided what was kosher, words really have to plead their case to warrant inclusion. Only recently the word “shitshow” was granted immortal status, while other unsuccessful candidates will be expected to wait another calendar year before reapplying. I say let them all in. What’s good for the goose right?
After picking up the odd word out on the trenches, my basic training came courtesy of primary education, and a child’s mind has a canny knack for soaking up information at this early stage so my word count soon multiplied tenfold. Should I graze my knee in the back yard, then I would no longer be required to bleat the following.
“Mummy. Knee. Hurt. Ice Cream!”
Now I could state my case in a far more elaborate manner.
“Mother Dearest. I seem to have suffered an abrasion to my patella. Perhaps a cider lolly would take the sting away. As a matter of fact, I believe the ice cream van just entered the vicinity. Would you mind terribly? Mummy?”
I’d throw the mummy in at the end just to remind her that her boy had no intention of growing up too fast and, nine times out ten, it worked a treat. This was delightful and there were just so many words at my disposal. That said, it all felt so prim and proper.
Granted, elocution would open new doors, but I never much cared for curriculum at the time. In their opinion, every word had a meaning and place in vocabulary, but absolutely no right to overstep its boundaries. I played along as that was what every other kid in class appeared to be doing. But it all felt so frightfully rigid. It was bad enough that I had to endure my tutor’s stale caffeine breath, but I had no recollection of inquiring as to the art of sucking eggs. For the record, I’m not about to bite the hand of education as it fed me well and, without it, I would have been required to scrape together a living as a mime artist. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to words than I was being made aware of.
At any rate, with a reasonably grand glossary now at my disposal, I ventured forth into adolescence and soon learned the art of profanity. It seemed inevitable that cussing would play a part in my dialogue during this transition as everyone was doing it and you weren’t considered edgy if you didn’t pad out each sentence with a “fuck”, “shit”, or “bollocks”. Of course, there was a time and place for such embellishment, and vulgar language could land you in hot water if not used in the correct company. To my recollection, my parents never once heard me swear during my teens and I seldom heard them curse either. Amusingly, the only movie I was ever forbidden to view during my filmic development was Oliver Stone’s Platoon. While it was deemed acceptable practice to head down to Texas for a chainsaw massacre, the colorful language used in combat duty was considered too lewd for one of such tender years. Needless to say, I’d watched it within a week of being denied, and there wasn’t anything I hadn’t already heard in the school yard.
Swearing was certainly a fun pastime but it just seemed a little overused for my liking. You see, it’s all about impact, and said impact was lessened by excessive use. In the right context and sparingly, the occasional obscenity could really assist in hammering home a point, but cuss words appeared to be necessitated far too freely for my liking and therefore lost their sheen a little. Folk would throw in a “fuck” seemingly to buy them some time when their brains needed to catch up and it wasn’t uncommon to hear the word brandished four of five times in a solitary statement. My beloved grandmother had taught me the art of moderation and that appeared to make sense with regards to foul language. Had she chose to relay this as “every fucking thing in fucking moderation” then perhaps I would’ve considered it fair game but I never once heard a single expletive leave her mouth so applied this logic to my chosen dialogue.
Of course, personnel and surroundings played a critical part in how many four-letter words came into play. Should I have paid a visit to the nearby retirement home, then effing and blinding was likely to compromise pacemakers (unless I homed in on the one geriatric who served for the Navy that is). This was fine with me as I happened to be rather partial to the likes of “fiddlesticks” and “whoopsie” so adapting really wasn’t an issue. However, toss me into an all male environment with a handful of construction workers, and I found myself cursing until the cement set. This may have appeared nothing more than a shameless plea for acceptance and, admittedly, he who swears least invariably ends up on sixteen-strong coffee-making duties. But, in actual fact, it just felt good to break loose once in a while and slum it with the heathens. I didn’t fucking mind, they didn’t fucking mind, we all had a good fucking time and, if I inhale deeply enough all these years later, I can still smell the stale farts and neglected fucking armpits.
I know one thing for sure, there was no way my vocabulary was one million words strong. Granted, I could vouch for a fair few thousand, but I was hardly a thespian. Moreover, it was one thing to inscribe on parchment, but entirely another locating an opening for “floccinaucinihilipilification” in open conversation. For the record, this denotes the action or habit of estimating something as worthless, and there’s irony in there somewhere as opportunities are as few as they are far between to bust out a dozen braided syllables. The first animal Noah would have had walking the plank once the ark sprung a leak would be the smart ass hyena and nobody wishes to come across as “cocksure” so we tend to reserve the right to free use unless engaging with fellow thespians. It wasn’t all about not appearing arrogant, talk can be cheap, and using “easy” as opposed to “elementary” seemed to leave me with more pocket change so I habitually kept things simple.
Then something totally unprecedented occurred and when I was least expecting it to boot. Life was punting my posterior seemingly for its own vile amusement and I needed to think of something fast before my peaches bruised any further. Frantically I searched for a solution to my downward spiral and good old Bonnie Tyler pitched in and explained why she had been procrastinating. According to Ms. Tyler, and she stated it with some vehemence, a hero would come in handy at this point. She seemed adamant that he had to be sure, had also be to soon, and could have done with being larger than life. Thank the heavens above for rousing encore, I already knew that love could lift me up where I belonged, every rose had its thorn, and 1.357 billion Chinamen would fit in the very palm of my hand. Now I had to find me a hero and fast. With the winds of change rolling in, I didn’t want to miss a thing and I’d grown a little weary of my broken wings. Charity begins at home right? The Keeper of The Crimson Quill duly donated his services and my soul then totally eclipsed my heart. Better yet, I’d done it all by myself.
While my chosen champion was more than willing to speak on my behalf, his services didn’t come free. He made it crystal clear to me from the offset that I would be required to put in the necessary legwork and nuzzle my nose in the books if he were to step into the firing line sporting a bullseye. Education suddenly made a spirited comeback although this time minus the mothballs. The good old online thesaurus was my first port of call and I did so at every available opportunity as I began to exercise my reinvigorated thirst for knowledge. However, I knew that taking any alternative phrases on face value alone could see me coming a cropper in no time. One cannot truly “empathize” with a grounded emu unless they too are emus. Sure they can “sympathize” and you could argue that there is much to identify with given that humans aren’t frequent flyers either. But two minutes of burying our heads in the sand and we’ve burrowed ourselves an early grave, leaving any nearby emus free to administer those three-pronged toe punts. Bottom line: a word soon becomes meaningless without first understanding its meaning.
Given that I was so committed to reinventing myself through prose, it felt no hardship whatsoever cramming as many substitutes into my cranium as was feasible, and I found this fresh intelligence intoxicating, where previously it had felt stifling. You see, while the correct terminology was provided, there was undoubtedly room for manoeuver. Every word had its meaning and I got that but there was no umpire on hand to suggest there weren’t other ways to skin a meerkat. The very first thing I abolished was the word “anyway” as who needs that played out shit “anyhoots”? Some points could be made in no uncertain terms but, to me, that equated to making them in terms of no great uncertainty. Words are very much like dough and it’s how you knead them that shows them at their most malleable. I play on words wherever accessible and coin every phrase that I can to keep me in credit with the word bank.
Then there’s the whole punctuation deal and, again, I believe that the beholder has the keenest eye for beauty here. Commas are a major stumbling block for many when they really needn’t pose a headache. To this day, I have no real grasp of the exact science to peppering prose with these stumbling blocks, and the reason for this couldn’t be plainer sailing. I scribe as I speak and anyone who has had the Keeper experience of being read Story Time will know as much. Should a pause be facilitated then that’s where a comma comes in handy in my estimations. The ellipsis is a little trickier to implement as it acts as a joiner tool for two individual sentences; making it somewhat less economical. But commas are one big free-for-all and I scatter that shit around like the bird seed that it is. Doesn’t appear to have ravaged my crop circle and what good is a breed without the odd seed? Right way. Wrong way. Fuck it, I’m with Sinatra on this one. Call me a pack rat and I’ll turn that shit straight round on you as the next round of beers is on Dean Martin.
It may not have gone unnoticed that I have a predilection for humor and, of all 206 bones in our exoskeletons, none seem as beneficial to strive for greasing than the funniest. This is where clown shoes come in handy and I polish mine up habitually as I’m never more content than when playing the fool. However, while they say you can tell a lot about a person by their chosen footwear, why stop there when there’s plenty of face paint to slap on and a bright red hooter to honk? Beneath that pallid emulsion, the cogs are always turning, searching for new inventive ways to diddle diction. The word font then opens up and undervalued jargon such as “gobbledygook” can be provided a rare run out. You gotta love a dash of “malarkey” from time to time right? Who gives a “crapola” if it’s “poppycock” you’re driveling? I happen to be rather fond of “codswallop” and where would we be without “gibberish”? I say “phooey” to all those opposed to “tommyrot” and will never agree to having my harmless “piffle” downgraded to “flapdoodle”. It’s “balderdash” I tell you.
To any aspiring scribes out there, my advice would be this: formal education is not something to be sniffed at and worth grabbing with open arms and mind as it can teach you far more than bare-boned basics. This is where cherry picking comes into play as higher learning enables us with valid tools and comprehension of how to make this career path a viable one. I’d suggest striking a balance between what books teach and how to self-preach as parameters are only there to be tested and vocabulary can be far more elastic than it may seem. It took me some time to fully appreciate the ebbs and flows of prose and I’m grateful to prior education for making this transition more seamless. It’s how we mould the one million plus officially endorsed words in the English language into double that tally that matters. Should we hit those strides and follow the stream where it leads us, then every ripple can replenish the water as long as we allow for such.
You could ask me to reel off one million words and, chances are, I’d be shit out of nouns by the close of the opening stanza. However, request again at a later date, and I’ll provide a fresh batch and throw in a handful of verbs for good measure. You see, words play I say. That reminds me, if you happen across the bird on your travels, be sure to compliment him on being the word. Got one helluva temper that one, everybody’s heard. If you ask me (in close proximity to a band of construction workers), I think he’s a fucking “birdbrain”.