It’s probably no surprise to anyone, but I’m a big fan of words. When writing, I love it when I find just the right one, with just the right nuanced meaning to get an idea across. I like words that are slightly old fashioned or not commonly used; words that are whimsical; and words that are evocative. I’d give you some examples but naturally, all the words in my head went into hiding as soon as I tried to find them.
I’ve been doing more of my reading on my Kindle app recently and one of the things I’ve really enjoyed is being able to click on a word and instantly get a definition while I’m reading along. Sure, I could pull out the dictionary when reading a physical book, but that’s not nearly as instantaneous. I’m finding that I’m looking up words fairly frequently – even words I’m pretty familiar with – just to be sure I’ve got their meaning correct. I’ll admit there have been a few occasions where my understanding of the meaning of a word was not quite as precise as I’d thought.
Looking up a word when you are not completely sure of the meaning is one thing, but what happens when you encounter a phrase that leaves you puzzled?
I’m thinking about a book I read a while back that had the line:
“…it makes me nostalgic for the future.” ~ Promise Me Dad, Joe Biden
I loved the phrase but, even in context, I had trouble deciding what it really meant. How can you be nostalgic for something that hasn’t happened yet? Did it mean missing something now that couldn’t happen in the future? I was puzzled and a foray into Google was unhelpful.
That phrase made me think of other phrases I’ve encountered that I’ve enjoyed but have left me equally baffled.
There’s this definition of a hero:
“…his face looked like a catcher’s mitt with a jaw.” ~ Jenny Crusie, What the Lady Wants
Can you picture that? I really can’t, even after an internet search for images of catcher’s mitts. The heroine finds him attractive, so I assume that it’s an endearing image, rather than brown, leathery, and possibly worn out, but I’m really not sure.
Currently my favourite “I’m not sure what it means but I love it” phrase is:
“She had a laugh like a French horn and a voice like a root vegetable.” ~ Louise Penny, A Rule Against Murder
I know what a French horn sounds like, but my root vegetables have been sadly voice-less, so I really can’t visualize (audio-alize) this character, but the phrase tickled me when I read it the other day and it makes me chuckle even now.
So, have you encountered any unique phrasing lately that you’ve found endearing but confusing? If so, I’d love to hear them. If not, maybe you can give me some hints on the phrases above.
I always thought the catchers mitt with the jaw meant that he had a round face but a chin, which Jenny used to suggest that he had determination. I don’t know what nostalgia for the future could be. Missing something that hasn’t happened yet––I’m missing a good regional public transportation system. I don’t know what Joe Biden is nostalgic in the future for.
I like words too, and one of the best things is that there are so many of them. And they can be so nuanced. In my younger days I was quite fluent in German, and in German, specific things are built from shorter words, which is why so many German words are so long. And then there’s not that much room for improvisation or playfulness, because if you mean that thing, whatever it is, you have to use that one long word and nothing else. At least, that’s what it seemed like to me. Native German speakers might disagree.
One of the traits of nostalgia is that we remember things longingly as they really weren’t. So when Biden, who has endured far more than his share of loss, talks about nostalgia for the future, I picture him longing for a future that includes his lost wife and daughter and his son Beau.
And now I’m going to go think about the future I’m nostalgic for.
Some people keep notebooks of Really Good Phrases and Words (and sometimes names). I wish I were one of those people, but I’m not. I get a good phrase, savor it for a minute, then let it loose into the wild. Catch and release reader, that’s me.
But I know exactly what you mean, where a word or phrase is just perfect, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you analyze it. I think I’m just making excuses, sometimes, if I analyze something I like. Analysis, of course, is very good — it helps you find more of the same, I think. But a lot of stuff is just beyond me.
“It’s Monday: slither down the greasy pipe, so far so good, no-one saw you. Hobble over any freeway. You will be like your dreams tonight.” — “Joe the Lion”, David Bowie. It’s better with the music, but it’s still weird. Yet, it makes me smile nearly every Monday.
As for the face like a catcher’s mitt — I always thought it was a loveably lumpy sort of face, like John C. Reilly. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/will-ferrell-john-c-reilly-sing-reunited-talk-holmes-watson-1169040 (Sometimes Reilly has more crinkles in his forehead.)
Nostalgic for the future? I am not aware of the greater context, but . . . in the past, we often had a bright image of the future with TV phones in our walls, and zooming aircars. Then, in recent years, our vision of the future has tended to be quite dystopic — burning cities and New York with a seawall, that sort of thing. Maybe Biden is nostalgic for the future his generation hoped for? And maybe he foresees it perhaps being just like they imagined? I mean, we do have TV phones — just not usually in walls. Usually in our computers and smartphones. That’s a pretty cool “future” to have realized.
(-: I think a root vegetable sounds earthy. That analogy is playing into all sorts of magical systems, too, and past singers who were very “grounded” and sang from the “root”. It’s a lot easier to imagine a bird-like voice, I think. Perhaps because the analogy has been around a lot longer. Saying, “She had a voice like a carrot” provokes a very different image. “She had a voice like a daikon radish”? I find that hilarious. Did you know that daikon juice is supposed to help sore throats, and there are “throat drops” in Japan that include daikon? Horrible things. A lot like you’d think radish juice in a pure-sugar form would taste, I think.