Finding New Words – The Fascinating World of Neologisms

I am absolutely entranced by the art of manipulating language.  There is nothing so satisfying as finding new ways to express yourself that are uniquely yours, but also completely intelligible to those around you – (as opposed to constructed languages which can be complex and beautiful, but completely useless and meaningless to those around you unless they know it all as well).  It not only expands your avenues of expressive thought – it gives tools to others to both share in and expand upon what you have created.

I first entered the word of neologisms (inventing new words from morphemes in existing languages) via the Russian genius Velimir Khlebnikov.  Even though he died in 1922, his work still feels timeless today.  I cannot encourage you highly enough to explore his writings.  He explored the roots of Russian words in creating neologisms as well as exploring the shapes and sounds of those letters.  He is most well known for linguistic experimentations with sound symbolism (along with Aleksei Kruchenykh) which came to be called Zaum.

Probably one of the foremost creators of neologisms today is another Russian writer whose brilliant works I cannot recommend highly enough – Mikhail Epstein.  In exploring neologisms Dr. Epstein has come up with many new concepts that have indeed been incorporated in popular speech today.  It’s fascinating how a single word – aside from utilitarian purposes, can evoke poetic and even humorous contexts in just one single word.  Some examples:  egonaut – a person dedicated to navigating one’s self.  Chairy – someone who likes to chair meetings and be the master of ceremonies and one of my favorites – oneirogenic – having the propensity to appear in someone else’s dreams.  All of these are from Dr. Epstein’s book, “Pre-Dictionary.”  Check it out – you’ll find you’ll start using some of the terms yourself.  It’s a whole new feeling – using a word you’ve never used before.  It’s exhilarating.  In a sense you get to relive the sensation that a newborn babe has when it utters “mama” for the very first time.

I have zero interest in emojis and texting.  I’m middle-aged so I’m really not interesting in chatting with teenagers about meaningless things.  I want to raise the level, texture and content of my conversation with like-minded adults interested in intellectual entertainment.  So instead of emojis and texting I by far prefer creating my own parallel universe with neologisms and invite you to join me in this language craft.

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The Race With Death

We’re in a constant race from the time of birth with death.  We ignore it, but it’s central to our entire being.

Think of it a bit like Zeno’s paradox where Achilles and the tortoise are in a race.  Think of the tortoise as life and Achilles as death.  The tortoise has a head start.  If the tortoise continues to lead by ever increasing amounts – a divergent series – then Achilles will never catch it.  Because if you keep counting 1,2,3 etc. you can go on infinitely.  But we know this isn’t possible because there is no fountain of youth that gives eternal life.

However if the tortoise increases in a convergent way (think ½ + ¼  etc.) then eventually you will get to one and the game is over.  Achille’s can catch the tortoise.

Of course there are those pesky exceptions – what seems convergent is actually divergent.  You think you have death beat and then it catches you unawares.

It seems impossible to cheat death, but is it impossible?   It’s just like a piece I read one time where one person said a talking parrot has no idea what it is saying.  The other person said, “how do you know?”

If that be true then people like Sabbatai Zevi and countless others who have claimed to be the Messiah over the centuries may still be wandering around somewhere.  If you have the power to grant eternal life, you must have the power to have it yourself, right?

If you had the secret to eternal life would you let others in on it?  What would compel you to share the secret?  What would compel you to hide it?   What if you got sick of the world and decided you were ready to check out?  If you were caught in a divergent series you wouldn’t be able to.  An inability to change your fate would not only make you a prisoner of ever lasting life, it would debunk your claims of being an omnipotent Messiah.  After all, as a Greek philosopher once said, “if God doesn’t interfere and he can, he is cruel.  If he doesn’t interfere because he cannot, then why call hm God?”

We will probably never know.  I believe it was Tolstoy who once said that when you die you either get all the answers or you quit asking the questions.

Lost Utopias

For centuries and centuries before us it seemed practically everyone looked towards some central point as a source of strength to move forward in their lives.  They believed in the possibility of better days to come through faith in a deity, trust in a King or in a religious leader or body of sages.  Despite skirmishes here and there, big and small, everyone hovered around the vicinity of the maypole and circumnavigated it accordingly.

Today as many people have either rejected or are indifferent to religion and its leaders and profess little to no confidence in government, where do we go for hope and order in our lives?  Most are not strong enough to be self-directed.  It seems many are wandering about like zombies in a sense.  Older people long for what they perceive as the utopia of the past – denying their revisionist glossing over of what were more often than not, not such rosy times.  Then there are the young people who seem to take each second as it comes – numb to any sense of what could or should be let alone having a firm grasp of what has been. An eternal, recyclable present.

We’re all wandering blind, out of touch with each other, with reality, with a sense of anticipation for the future and an inability to locate the pole.

A New Way To Read

I’d like to present to you an experiment for you to try the next time you pick up a book to read.  It stems from a combination of two trains of thought.

First, in the movie “Bright Star” (about the love of English poet John Keats for Fanny Brawne), in one scene Keats tries to explain how to experience poetry to Fanny.

“Fanny: I still don’t know how to work out a poem.

Keats: A poem needs understanding through the senses.  The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore but to be in the Lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water.

You do not work the lake out.  It is an experience beyond thought.  Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery.”

Secondly, there is my favorite writer – Mikhail Epstein.  In his wonderful book, “The Transformative Humanities” he discusses how the blankness on a page has as much meaning as the text itself.  “The white that makes the text visible has to be made visible by the text:  both exposed and concealed, it is a double gesture of gratitude and reverence.”  The non-text is unpronounceable, indefinable.  You can think of it as unexpressed thoughts.  Just as when we go about our daily lives there are countless times when we have both conscious and unconscious trains of thought – most of which may not be articulated either vocally or in written form.  They are nonetheless running parallel with our expressed utterances at all times and therefore no less a part of us.

So lets tie it all together.  The next time you pick up a book (and seriously make it a good one, not just a beach read bodice ripper) look at it this way:  The left blank margin is the shore of the lake (aka “the text”).  Think of your expectations as you are getting ready to enter the lake.  Then read the line.  Not just once – read it in whole or in part as many times as it takes to truly comprehend and experience the essence of it.  As you exit the lake on the right side take the time to reflect on what you have just read.  How did it make you feel?  Did you consider its meaning from multiple perspective – both surface and hidden meanings?  If you were to write that line, how might you have worded it differently, based on your own background and unique way of expressing yourself?  Of course, it takes time to consider all of these questions with the time and energy to which they are entitled.  So, allow your eye to walk the length of the blank right margin all the way to the bottom of the page.  Then cross the bottom moving to your left and back up again until you reach the shore of the next line.  Basically, take a thoughtful stroll between passages.  By the end of the entire page hopefully you will feel like you have not just been informed or entertained, but that you have had an experience upon which you will reflect back on in the future because it was a meaningful memory worth revisiting.

Give it a try.  Feel free to share your experiences with me as a comment to this post, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about this approach.

The Comfort of Oracles

Don’t you miss the days when you could take a vacation, go visit an oracle and come home knowing exactly what the future held?  Yes we have daily horoscopes now, but it feels terribly impersonal doesn’t it?  If I’m one of millions of say Scorpios. Libras, or Pieces etc.  am I really to believe we are all going down exactly the same track?  It just doesn’t have that individually tailored feel to it.  I like to think my future is mine and mine alone and that I’m so incredibly unique that no one’s path is going to mirror mine – just as no one has the same fingerprint as mine and never shall no matter how mind blowing technology gets in the future.

Yes, I know many will say it is all about having faith.  But wishing for something doesn’t make it so and there is a hollowness and sense of futility in looking at the sky and essentially talking to yourself.  Nothing ever talks back to you and you’re keenly well aware of it whether or not you choose to admit it.

Things may or may not get better.  It’s about as certain and confidence inspiring as tossing a coin in the air and guessing what side it will land on.  What if the coin falls in the grass or down the gutter upon descent?  That would really be a conundrum.  You neither win nor lose.  You’ll just never know what might have been.

I think it was Yehuda Amichai who had a poem once about how children had it so easy.  When they played hide and seek they knew exactly what they were looking for and knew for certain that of all the trees in the playground, their goal was behind one of them.  There was zero possibility of missing the mark.    That’s probably why once we’re old we all wish we could toss the future in the rubbish and just hang around in the playground for all eternity where things seemed far simpler.

I Know What You Are Not, But What Are You?

There seems to be a veritable obsession these days of people going around proclaiming what characteristics they lack – or as I like to call it “label tossing.”  How many people say, “I am not a racist, I am not homophobic, I am not xenophobic etc.”  Yet when you ask these same people to express what they are they whip out plagiarized slogans like, “I’m for liberty and justice for all.”  Ok fabulous – so what does that mean exactly?  If you are the true embodiment of these ideals then they must be at the forefront of your conscious – yes?  Then as a champion for all that is right in the world, would not a majority of your time be spent ensuring that the passion of which you claim to fully embody as an identifiable quality – not less than, but rather equal to or greater than your entire self – be the obsession whose singular aim would be your pursuit at every possible opportunity?  After all, it is wholly and quintessentially “you”, right?  You said so yourself.  So, if it isn’t really all of “you” since you don’t spend every minute of every day reveling in or pursuing topping up the glass with that one singular element that you identified as your essence, then what is the rest of “you”?  It’s stunning how many people can’t answer that question because they’ve never really given any thought to why they are here and what makes their presence on earth unique – for better or for worse.  It’s a hard thing to figure out, but if you don’t really know who you are – how can you pursue anything in your life with conviction?

I am an absolute devotee to the concept that each soul is like a snowflake – each one is completely unique and incapable of being cloned.  I’m not a strong proponent of the reverse logic theory of proving what something isn’t in order to discover what it is.  Isn’t it more interesting to discover than to eliminate?

It reminds me of when I was a little girl and they told us in school to write an outline before we wrote a story.  We were to have roman numerals of each paragraph and a brief synopsis under each of what that paragraph would be about.  Well in my opinion the muse was bored and either wandered off or died by the time I got through categorizing everything.  So, I wrote the story first and then went back and did the outline to match it to satisfy those logic fanatics who wanted to see the scaffolding instead of the outer treasure.

Know who you are.  Who care what you aren’t, it’s irrelevant.  You are a complex, multi-faceted being that cannot and should not be capable of being defined by the rhetoric or slogans of popular society.  You wouldn’t let others slap a label on your breast – don’t do it yourself.  Explore your own soul, understand it intimately, and share of it what you wish, when you wish it.

Cooking Without A Recipe – Novice Politicians

From a very early age most of us can recall a love one cooking for us in the kitchen.  They always made it look so easy.  A dash here, a dollop there and all was good in the world because you were satisfied and not hungry for more.  A picture perfect definition of the word “contentment” and all that it implies.

So what happens when you decide that either you have ceased being satisfied with the status quo or that it is simply time for a change? You have watched all the goings on all these years, so surely you can just step into place and it will all come together, right?  Who needs hands on experience if you have been a keen observer?  Of course it depends how you define keen.  Even the most humble among us frequently overestimate our powers of observation.

So you’re standing at the stove and you manage to get things started.  The fire is at a manageable level.  You have picked out the best ingredients from the cupboards.  Maybe you’re bold and will throw it all together without a recipe – just guess at the quantities.  Let instinct rule the day.

Maybe you’ll create a heretofore unknown sensation in the mouths of your intended recipients that they will expound upon in the history books for centuries to come.   Or maybe you’ll make them ill.  They’ll still talk about you quite a bit, but the tone will be quite different than what you intended.

The biggest danger is that the flame will grow and become misdirected when you are otherwise occupied, or that those premium ingredients may in effect be beyond their expiration dates – impotent when it comes to satisfying current demands.  By brashly discarding a recipe or sound advice from those with hands on experience you may mix the wrong amounts together.  Without taking an interest in your recipients needs, you may unintentionally serve them something they are violently allergic to – with serious and sometimes fatal consequences for all involved.

Influence

I wryly smile when the news slyly utters those two innocuous little words as often as possible that set many seemingly ordinary people into near hysterics these days – Russian influence.  It’s not a new thing you know – it is as familiar as a heartbeat in the homes of practically every American.  How so?  No, the answer isn’t in your Facebook feed.  It’s much more obvious.  Let’s think about the many Russian ironies embedded for centuries in quintessential American traditional life that Americans never seem to notice.

Every Christmas how many kids dance in the Nutcracker and how many parents insist on it playing in practically every theater in the country?  Of course, as most (hopefully) know the music is all by Tchaikovsky.

Even more compelling are the standard Christmas symbols themselves.  Yes, I know the whole Jesus thing.  But let’s be honest, most people are in it for the presents and Santa.  So, what about Santa?  Well it’s really about a Siberian fungus.  Seriously.  You see in Siberia there is a mushroom, a hallucinogenic one with a red cap and white spots, called Fly Agaric.  Around December it used to be that Siberian Shamans went out to harvest them.  Tradition dictated that they wear a red and white fur trimmed coat (matching the colors of the mushroom itself) as well as black boots (reindeer skin blackened from exposure).  They would often hang them in a sock over a fire to dry them out – hence the Christmas stocking.  A side effect of eating the mushrooms is that it makes your cheeks flush red.  It also elicits a sense of flying.  So, when you’re out and about in Siberia hunting with reindeer and eating Fly Agaric – the concept of Rudolf and the team are not such a stretch to imagine.  And finally, because of all the snow (this is Siberia after all) the Shamans entered the tents of fellow villagers via the smoke hole in the roofs.  So, you see, your typical American Christmas is really a Siberian Koryak magic mushroom fest.

Further influence is seen when everyone whips out flags and firecrackers to patriotically celebrate the 4th of July – America’s Independence Day.  And what song do they play to accompany the fireworks?  Again, Tchaikovsky.  The 1812 Overture.  It makes perfect sense, right?  So American.  After all it celebrates Russia’s victory over Napoleon and even includes an interlude of “God Save the Tsar.”  Wait, what?

So, you see dear friends, influence is indeed a dicey thing.  Inspiration is typically something you can pinpoint as the beginning of a journey – typically a positive one.  Influence is not such a skip through the daisies.  It’s not always positive and it’s not always obvious.  It’s hard to say at what point it nestles in your conscious or subconscious and makes itself at home.  Even when one recognizes that route altering thought has occurred –  it is rather difficult to say what specific thing triggered it and when.  To be unaware of such obvious influences in plain sight all around us, such as those cited earlier, how can anyone say with certainty that they are not influenced by all the stimuli around them from sources all over the world at practically every minute of every day?  The wisdom of decisions driven by these multitudes of influence lies with the ability of the individual to filter, dissect and evaluate the bugs that stick to the windshield and forgo those that miss the mark or fall to the road.

Technology and the Bard

I witnessed a rather amusing spectacle the other day upon which I thought I would have some fun recreating with you.  Enjoy.

Once upon a time in a waiting room a disheveled Romeo drunkenly shuffled in and collapsed into the first available polyester chariot.  His journey had been long and fruitless.  The damsel he believed destined to be his and his alone was not returning his texts.  At any moment, his heartbeat could simply seize and cease via hypothermia and send our hero into the hereafter he was beginning to crave to diminish his pain.

He had one last hope, he raised his phone to his lips.  His fingers too nimble to text he opted for voice recognition.  In the rarest of colloquial vernaculars he managed to extract the last drops of nectar from within his shrinking heart as he muttered, “babe, what up?”

A momentary processing pause turned into an arduous wait, as if a gallant knight had summited the hill to join the battle only to find himself alone in the field with a sword whose handle had just broke.  The silence was broken like the ice beneath one’s feet in the middle of a frozen river as the phone coldly replied, “sorry, could not process, please repeat?”

The Sneeze

I have been taking part in a free class sponsored by a local microscope society in how to properly use microscopes.  It’s utterly fascinating to observe the micro world.  A wonderful way for children and adults alike to put a little awe back into their life.

In last week’s lesson we were observing and discussing a variety of scientific topics – such as the process of crossing various species of plants in order to create entirely new ones.  In other words, “playing God.”  All based upon sound, rational, observable evidence that has been tried and tested over and over again for hundreds of years by people around the world.

One would naturally assume that people interested in such topics would be progressive thinkers of the modern age, fully cognizant of and open to ideas new and old that challenge traditional assumptions about the world around us.  Myth-busters if you will, dedicated to replacing supposition and fantasy with truth grounded in rationalism.

Therefore, I found it particularly ironic when the director sneezed that every single person in the world said “bless you.”