The Most Resplendent Words That Buzz With Our Human Need to Express & Connect

“One thing we have lost is the courage to make new words or combinations. ”
John Steinbeck

“One thing we have lost” lamented a tired John Steinbeck in his writer’s diary, “is the courage to make new words or combinations.”

Not in our house.

“I’ll see you tomorning” I throw words and kisses at my daughter’s dark room as she tucks herself under a mountain of covers and animals. It’s an economical word, her invention, a mix of “tomorrow” and “morning.” Like “tonight.”

My husband uses the word “prepone,” which means to move a meeting forward. Or move anything forward in time.

“Let’s prepone that to tomorning” we say in our house. Steinbeck would be proud.

Words absorb the energy of what they are meant to communicate. In doing so they become more than communicative tools, they become vocalizations of the human spirit.

Script of "mosuzanu" by Parth Shah. Featured in "The Most Resplendent Words."
In the Gujarati language “‘mosuzanu’ is start of the day but not quite. The day is very young, still an infant, and if you are with someone at the time, it is likely to be someone you know well. I find this word particularly romantic with a touch of sensuality. You have likely spent the night or are still awake, and the sun is about to come and you can make out each other’s faces but not quite.” Lettering by Parth Shah, a graphic & type designer from India, studying for a master’s degree in Inclusive Design at OCAD University in Toronto.
“When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words” sings George Orwell in his memoir of the writing impulse.

When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words, i.e. the sounds and associations of words. The lines from Paradise Lost,

So hee with difficulty and labour hard
Moved on: with difficulty and labour hee,

Which do not now seem to me so very wonderful, sent shivers down my backbone; and the spelling ‘hee; for ‘he’ was an added pleasure.

From George Orwell’s Why I Write

Have you ever noticed “gargantuan” and “orangutan” look remarkably alike? These sibling words met in a book I read recently and seemed to be hugging each other across the lines.

The word 'mosuzanu' in Gujarati script by Parth Shah. Featured in "The Most Resplendent Words."
The Gujarati word ‘mosuzanu’ in Gujarati, a centuries-old script from a northwest India. “The Gujarati script (ગુજરાતી લિપિ) was adapted from the Devanagari script to write the Gujarati language, around the 10th century. It is also known as banker’s or merchant’s script.” Lettering by Parth Shah.

Scottish poet Nan Shepherd reaches into the old vernacular to find words like “blent” and “lucency” and “relume,” which she uses to reconcile image and communication.

Astonishment is in the Skies

Astonishment is in the skies;
The gilding waters murmur o’er
Songs that are their own surprise;
The trees ne’er looked like this before.

Thine is the ravishment they wear.
I turn from thee in such content
That where I go though still art there,
And all the world is with thee blent.

From Nan Shepherd’s In the Cairngorms and Other Poems

Do you know what “blent means?” Can you guess? Could Shepherd have described mountain light without it? 1

Close-up of word "mosuzanu" by Parth Shah. Featured in "The Most Resplendent Words."
The curves and edges of the word “mosuzanu,” the dawn of both day and human consciousness. Lettering by Parth Shah.

Science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin knew the power of unknown words. Resplendent words. She wrote worlds out of words her entire career. Believing the best expression of universal reality was in fantastical fiction.

Until fairly recently, the societies in and for which realistic fiction was written were limited and homogeneous. The realistic novel could describe such societies. But that limited language is in trouble now. To describe society since the mid twentieth century – global, multilingual, infinitely interlinked – we need the global, intuitional language of fantasy. García Márquez wrote his histories of his own nation in fantastic images of magical realism because it was the only way he could do it.

From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter

“Once language exists only to convey information, it is dying” observed poet and creative writing teacher Richard Hugo. His words show eagerness to expand how we think and feel about the boundaries of language and the unsayable.

We creative writers are privileged because we can write declarative sentences, and we can write declarative sentences because we are less interested in being irrefutably right than we are in the dignity of language itself. I find words beautiful that ring with psychic truth and sound meant. If such a choice were possible, I would far rather mean what I say than say what I mean. To use language well requires self-sacrifice, even giving up pet ideas.

From Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town

Hugo gives us permission to use the odd word or the new word occasionally, powerfully, and without hesitation. Not because we want to be casual, but because we want to be expansive.

The word 'Godhuli' in English script by Parth Shah. Featured in "The Most Resplendent Words."
The word “‘godhuli’ feels like end of the day, like you are calling it a day can relax. The sun is setting, cows are returning home, you don’t have the weight of responsibility now, the day is over. Have supper, lay down in your bed and look at the stars, most people of the region slept outside.” Words and lettering by Parth Shah.

New words are grand, but let’s not forget the unexpected rhythm of the fully known. Do you remember in The Philadelphia Story when Katharine Hepburn replies – ironically, dismissively yet beauteously – when Jimmy Stewart tells her he hailed from South Bend, Indiana: “South Bend, it sounds like dancing.” Does it? It does when she says it.

I’ve always loved the word “portmanteau.” It suggests a coat, a harbour, a suitcase, a buffalo caped in snow. It means a word formed by combining two or more existing words that all relate to a single concept. “Tomorning” is a portmanteau.

I commensurately dislike the term “pore-over.” Not only is it trite, but how does it work? Am I dumping myself into something, embodying it? Am I filing it’s pores? Am I in liquid form? Then why is it not pour?2

The word “masticate” seems misplaced, too. Dishonest. With all those consonants, it must be something horrible! Nope, it’s just chewing. A baby masticates creamed corn. Drop that at playgroup.

The word 'Godhuli' in Gujarati script by Parth Shah. Featured in "The Most Resplendent Words."
The word ‘godhuli’ in Gujarati script. “I first did them with brush pen calligraphy style,” writes the artist Shah, “But I was not satisfied. Later, I made them using old dip pens and an inkpot. This is the writing tool which would have been used to write these letters back in the day.” Lettering by Parth Shah.

The word “walkie-talkie” strikes me as odd. It’s so… jejune. Especially when you consider the device was invented in 1937 by a man working in conjunction with the U. S. Military. What if guns were called “bangy-killie?” Would they be easier to use?

Talking of words, have you used “algorithm” lately? It has only recently entered my ken, and seems to be on the make. The moment it enters my reading matter, on the screen or on the page, I am wary; I fear that there is discomfort to come, either because the reading matter is going to be too intellectual for me, or because the use of the noun (assuming it is a noun) portends pretensions to come. It’s a pity, because I like the word itself, with its graceful shape and obvious Arab origins, but alas it is not yet my style.

From Jan Morris’ Thinking Again

What a time we’re in. A renowned writer and journalist like Morris, who throws her intellect into words like “ken”, “portends,” and “pretensions,” is intimidated by the word “algorithm.” Not simply the word but its culture and usage.

I know just what she means.

We all feel “discomfort to come” about language. There seems to be an elite set of people “in the know” who speak a language that is same but separate, whose intelligence seems to preclude. For me it’s anything related to technology.

Regardless, I make up and misuse words all the time. Not to confuse but to expand. I see words for their resplendent possibility rather than their exact certainty.

Features of the word 'Godhuli' in Gujarati script by Parth Shah. Featured in "The Most Resplendent Words."
The features of the word ‘godhuli’ in Gujarati script by Parth Shah. “The script’s characteristics are due to the chiseled dip pen and inkpot. The writing tool affected how the script would look. Scripts from southern parts of India are mono-linear and curvy, as they were written using stylus, while scripts from northern parts of India would have more contrast and thin & thick strokes as they were written using dip pens.”

New words and meanings are a springboard to new thinking. New thinking is messy and confusing. But the discomfort of not knowing needn’t be lasting.

Morris, at the then age of ninety-three, agrees:

Never mind. “Algorithm” is a lovely word, a noble, graceful word, and it moves me to learn that it comes (I don’t quite know how) from the ninth-century surname of Abu Ja ‘far Mohammed Ben Musa. I can’t find him in my Encyclopedia of Islam, but I think I’ll start using the word myself, algoristically, just to amuse him.

There is always room for new words. New meanings. We are all opsimaths. – the great student and teacher Stephen Fry promises of the aged mind. I shall use that word tomorning.

Reparations for the Beaten Heart: Melodies of Love and Encouragement

“The human heart is so delicate and sensitive that it always needs some tangible encouragement to prevent it from faltering.”
Maya Angelou

The heart is beaten. Besieged. A bit assaulted around the edges. With enmity or indifference. The heart is fractured and threadbare.

Is it true the ribs can tell
the kick of a beast from a
Lover’s fist? The bruised
Bones recorded well …
Love by nature, exacts a pain
Unequalled on the rack.

From Maya Angelou’s “A Kind of Love, They Say”

If love by its nature exacts a pain then the heart is the locale of that pain. It is the center of our embodied pain and the center of the body, a muscle in extraordinary demand. The heart tears, beating and beaten in every way.

Julie Campbell embroidery.
The exquisite embroidery of artist Julie Campbell fuses emotion onto human anatomy to capture, in glorious vitality, the abundant complexity of being human. Photograph by Julie Campbell.
“Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot” writes David Whyte in his reclamation of words.

Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot. [It] colors and inhabits and magnifies each and every day; heartbreak is not a visitation, but a path that human beings follow through even the most average life. Heartbreak is an indication of our sincerity: in a love relationship, in a life’s work, […] in the attempt to shape a more generous self.

From David Whyte’s Consolations

“Heartbreak is not a visitation,” writes Whyte, but it feels like one. Heartbreak is like standing still while something pummels our exterior. It comes at you, moves after you, moves through you, all the while you are relentlessly stuck.

And the pain sits on our chest like a chest.

Julie Campbell embroidery.
“My heart is fragile, it feels too much, it aches, it cries, it has felt the icy claws of fear and yet I would prefer to feel all of this than have a cold heart lacking all empathy.” Photograph by Julie Campbell
I return to this short short-story by Lydia Davis a writer of meaning stripped of accessory.

In a house besieged lived a man and a woman. From where they cowered in the kitchen the man and woman heard small explosions.

‘The wind,’ said the woman.

‘Hunters,’ said the man.

‘The rain,’ said the woman.

‘The army,’ said the man.

The woman wanted to go home, but she was already home, there in the middle of the country in a house besieged.

In Davis’s Essays, she explains that in a first draft she initially imagined a dog in the house, but it was removed – too domestic, too comforting. When I read Davis’s piece, I mentally remove the man and the woman and place my heart inside the house. Pulsing out its little, nervous hope.1

A heart visited – despite what Whyte argues – by heartbreak.

The heart is, a poet might argue, the smallest parcel of a conceptual human. To have heart, to do something with heart, is to do something with conviction, power, the whole self.

“The human heart is so delicate and sensitive that it always needs some tangible encouragement to prevent it from faltering,” writes Maya Angelou in her glorious generosity of self. Has anyone given more heart?

This woman who spent her life writing pain, sweeping up heartache, and bundling it tight. What do we mean by that?

What are the reparations for a beaten heart? How do we give it tangible encouragement?

Julie Campbell embroidery.
“I love everything about anatomy,” writes Campbell, “But especially how our emotions affect us not just mentally but also physically. What I find fascinating is that our outward appearance tells very little of the person we are. Our bodies are a facade. I like to explore beyond this idea, and get under the skin as it were.” Photograph by Julie Campbell
The key, argues Whyte, would be to look at heartbreak not as a besieging but as… what’s the word… a companion.

Realizing its inescapable nature, we can see heartbreak not as the end of the road or the cessation of hope but as the close embrace of the essence of what we have wanted or are about to lose. […] If heartbreak is inevitable and inescapable, it might be asking us to look for it and make friends with it.

Angelou wrote about a companion. Did she mean her own pain?

Where We Belong

In every town and village,
In every city square,
In crowded places
I search the faces
Hoping to find
Someone to care.

[…]

Then you rose into my life
Like a promised sunrise.
Brightening my days with the light in your eyes.
I’ve never been so strong,
Now I’m where I belong.

From Maya Angelou’s “Where We Belong”

I often think I belong next to Hermann Hesse of Germany’s Black Forest (as my people were). Hesse was formed by a strict religious upbringing and coaxed frequently to the edge of madness by an irreconcilable sense of self against society. He believed in wholes yet suffered alienation. He nurtured a sinewy connection to nature’s cycles and held up solitude as a primitive need in the quest for self-knowledge.

In the touchingly tender poem called “Do you know this too…?” Hesse lays his vulnerability at our feet.

Do You Know This Too?

Do you know this too?
You are in the middle of a cheerful party,
when a sudden stillness takes hold of you,
and you hastily have to leave the happy hall.

Back in your bed you lay awake
like someone suffering from a sudden heartache.
The fun and laughter disappear like smoke
and you break into tears: do you know this too?

From Hermann Hesse’s Seasons of the Soul

Whether it’s a sharp pain or aching fatigue, our hearts are beaten.

Do you know this too?

Julie Campbell embroidery.
“About 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage … My second pregnancy ended at 11 weeks. I was lucky that I already had a child and knew that there was no reason that I couldn’t have another. A year later my daughter was born. I remember something that was said to me after my miscarriage: a friend told me that her mother had several miscarriages before having her and it she hadn’t she would not have been born. I know everyone has different experiences and copes with loss in different ways but her saying that really helped. Looking at my daughter now I can’t imagine her not having been here so I’m one of the lucky ones that doesn’t have a missing piece.” Photograph by Julie Campbell

I have no reparation for the beaten heart. No transaction to set it right or stop it from stalking our steps. There is no armor against it (well, none that doesn’t extract its own grave toll).

But as I write this, surrounded by sitting in the warmth of something good, the glow of something bright, the company of these artists who met their pain with grace and generosity, and the imagined company of you, dear reader… That is the reparation – no, the recourse – for this beaten heart.

Some Shape of Beauty

“Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils”
John Keats

What is the shape of beauty that moves away the pall? What is the thing that lifts our chin to the spectral infinite? That pauses our hearts?

It paints the world pink. It cups the ears and shatters mental obstinance. It arrives like Phaethon in fiery orbit.

It is a beautiful thing, but is it rightly called beauty?

A few examples for contemplation.

Jan Morris and the unexpected kindness

Here’s a lovely thing that has happened to me. When they made my first collection of these diary pieces into a book, I added a dedication, thus:

For One and All Kindlily (and yes, there is such a word!)

Well, last night I went into town in a misty, rainy dusk to collect a load of firewood, and as I began to load it up a vague, burly figure emerged unexpectedly out of the half-light to carry it all to the car for me. I don’t know who he was. I didn’t recognize him – could hardly see him really – and when he finished the job he just melted into the mist again without a word. I called after him through the darkness to thank him for his great kindness, and after a pause his voice came back to me there. ‘I try to behave kindlily,’ it said, and then after another pause, more faintly still: ‘And yes, there is such a word.’ Never in half a century of the writing life have I been so delightfully quoted.

From Jan Morris’ Thinking Again

Unexpected emptiness. Photograph by Ellen Vrana.

Emma Mitchell and the village wood

When I walk the half-mile or so from our front door to the entrance of the village wood, follow the mown paths that trail between the trees and begin to notice the plants going to seed or coming into flower, seek out the yellow-striped grove snail shells part-hidden in the chalky soil and catch sight of a muntjac deer as it scampers away, the mental relief I felt at seeing that lime tree opposite our cottage is multiplied many-fold. I become engrossed in every leafy, creeping or flying inhabitant of the wood, and with each detail that draws my attention, with each metre I walk, the incessant clamour of daily concerns seems to become more muffled and the foggy pall of depression begins to disperse.

From Emma Mitchell’s The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us

Unbearable complexity from a point. Photograph by Ellen Vrana.

Billie Holiday and the song

I didn’t even know the word ‘audition’ existed, but that was what I wanted.

So Jerry sent me over to the piano players and told me to dance. I started and it was pitiful. They were going to throw me out on my ear, but I kept begging for the job. Finally the piano player took pity on me. He squashed out his cigarette, looked up at me, and said, ‘Girl, can you sing?

‘I said, ‘Sure I can sing, what good is that?’ I had been singing all my life, but I enjoyed it too much to think I could make money at it. Besides, those were the days of the Cotton Club and all those glamour pusses who didn’t do nothing but look pretty, shake a little, and take money off tables.

I thought that was the only way to make money, and I needed forty-five bucks by morning to keep Mom from getting set out in the street. Singers were never heard of then, unless it was Paul Robeson, Julian Bledsoe, or someone legit like that.

So I asked him to play ‘Trav’lin’ All Alone.’ That came closer than anything to the way I felt. And some part of it must have come across. The whole joint quieted down. If someone had dropped a pin, it would have sounded like a bomb. When I finished, everybody in the joint was crying in their beer, and I picked thirty-eight bucks up off the floor. When I left the joint that night I split with the piano player and still took home fifty-seven dollars.

From Billie Holiday’s Lady Sings the Blues

Clouds fumble over themselves like waves. Photograph by Ellen Vrana.

Andy Warhol and odd objects of comfort

Sometimes something can look beautiful just because it’s different in some way from the other things around it. One red petunia in a window box will look very beautiful if all the rest of them are white, and vice-versa. When you’re in Sweden and you see beautiful person after beautiful person after beautiful person and you finally don’t even turn around to look because you know the next person you see will be just as beautiful as the one you didn’t bother to turn around to look at-in a place like that you can get so bored that when you see a person who’s not beautiful, they look very beautiful to you because they break the beautiful monotony.

There are three things that always look very beautiful to me: my same good pair of old shoes that don’t hurt, my own bedroom, and U.S. Customs on the way back home.

From Andy Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

Stephen Fry and love’s whimsy

The moment I lifted my head from the pavement and glanced across the road I saw, amongst the Redwood’s boys crossing, one of their number was looking the other way, as if to check that there was no traffic coming. And at that moment, before his face came into view, it happened. The world changed.

If he had turned out to be ugly, I think my heart would have sunk, but still the world would have been different, because that thing that stirred and roared in me would have been awakened anyway and nothing could ever have put it back to sleep.

As it was, he was not ugly.

He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.

I stopped dead so suddenly that a boy behind walked straight into me.

From Stephen Fry’s Moab is My Washpot

They square their breasts to the sun. Photograph by Ellen Vrana.

Ernest Hemingway and the oyster

Then I went back to writing and I entered far into the story and was lost in it. I did not look up nor know anything about the time nor think where I was nor order any more rum St James. I was tired of rum St James without thinking about it. Then the story was finished and I was very tired. I read the last paragraph and then I looked up and looked for the girl and she had gone. I hope she’s gone with a good man, I thought. But I felt sad.

I closed up the story in the notebook and put it in my inside pocket and I asked the waiter for a dozen portugaises and a half-carafe of the dry white wine they had there. After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day.

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

From Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast

Hello there! Photograph by Ellen Vrana.

Wislawa Szymborska and constant art

Vermeer

So long as that woman from the Rijksmuseum
in painted quiet and concentration
keeps pouring milk day after day
from the pitcher to the bowl
the World hasn’t earned
the world’s end.

From Wislawa Szymborska’s Here

To be erased and made again. And again… Photograph by Ellen Vrana.
Sudden or slow. Conscious-expanding or cosmic blip. A moment of peace. Or energy.

We surrender as the shape of beauty aligns our fibers to true north.

It is a wonder, wrote Annie Dillard in her contemplation of these exact moments, it is a wonder that there is any beauty at all.

What shape of beauty moves away your pall?