One late, late night many years ago (2002, to be exact, sometime in early May of that seminal year), I chatted on the phone with a guy I was dating at the time. It was well past midnight, and as I had just returned from a months-long backpacking trip around the world, my body was still shaking off the nasty effects of a particularly bad bout of jet lag. At the time I stayed wide-awake till the early hours of the morning, only to find myself literally falling asleep at the wheel of my parked car. It took a month for me to finally get back on a regular sleep schedule.
Anyhoo, back to the conversation.
Jim tended to go to bed late anyway, so we sat up and talked and talked, mostly about the kind of things you talk about when it’s one in the morning on a Saturday night. Favorite movies. Life philosophies. Jobs. Or in my case at the time, job hunts. Grammar. Words.
Jim was not a writer. Rather, he was a millionaire entrepreneur, but he also had a love of words that nearly equaled mine (we met in a bookstore, natch), and what I remember most about that conversation was a lengthy, lengthy discussion about the difference between the words precise and accurate. We didn’t argue or debate, we simply discussed it with the kind of keen interest that, say, anthropologists display when they’re discussing the discovery of a tribe of pygmies in Southeast Asia. This was truly fascinating stuff to us.
I sometimes think that that’s why I write, because few things in life — not movies, not jobs, not even life philosophies — hold my attention like words do. I’m good for little else, and when I’m really honest with myself, that’s enough for me.
3 thoughts on “Why do I write?”
I love this post. Lately, I’ve felt like getting a little more precise (not accurate) about my use of words and to this end have invested in the two-volume version of the OED, plus CD-ROM! It’s a wonderful thing.
I want one of those! I have two dictionaries, one of which I’ve owned since I was in the 5th grade and with which I refuse to part for all the tea in China. But even I acknowledge that I should get a new dictionary.
So good to meet a fellow lover of words. You know, I know that the French hate to hear this, but I do think that English, for all its flaws, is the richest language in the world. I mean, just think of the shades of meaning that distinguish words like <>precise<> and <>accurate<>, or <>love<>, <>adore<>, <>passion<>, <>lust<>, <>covet<>, and countless others. When I taught English in Japan, that’s when I really came to appreciate the twisted, lovely language that’s my mother tongue.
Have you had the same experience teaching in France?
Yes, English has so many synonyms. And you know, English DOES have a lot more words than French. In fact, one of the reasons English is so rich in vocabulary is that it was originally Germanic-based, but then when the French invaded England under William the Conqueror, they brought all their vocabulary along, and it sometimes became the more formal vocabulary.
(For example “to eat” vs. “to dine,” “to think” vs. “to reflect.”)
Also, of course, the many places English is spoken as a native tongue adds to its richness.
I can’t imagine as a writer that you don’t have a great dictionary. Which one do you use?
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