This week’s article was written by team member Ashley Mangin. Ashley works in our Circulation Department and brings a special joy and enthusiasm to her work. This article originally appeared in the January 25th edition of the O’Fallon Weekly.
Right now, I’m sitting in the middle of the library surrounded by books filled with thousands and thousands of words. And I can’t help but wonder, “What is a word really?” When you think about all the English words you know and the fact that they are nothing more than different combinations of the same 26 letters, it seems bizarre that we’ve attached meanings to some but not to others.
So, what makes a word a word? Well, Wikipedia says “a word can generally be defined as a basic element of language that carries an objective or practical meaning, can be used on its own, and is uninterruptible.” But do made-up words count? I think they do. You can ask any parent of a toddler about made-up words and they can tell you all about them. But it’s not just kids who make up words, we grownups do it all the time. So much so that the Oxford English Dictionary adds approximately 4,000 words every year, and we somehow still manage to make up more.
One excellent example of that is a book we recently got at the library called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. The author, John Koenig uses etymology, or the study of the history and makeup of words, to create new words with real, if not dramatic, meanings such as:
Vellichor- the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.
Moledro- a feeling of resonant connection with an author or artist you’ll never meet, who may have lived centuries ago and thousands of miles away but can still get inside your head and leave behind morsels of their experience, like the little piles of stones left by hikers that mark a hidden path through unfamiliar territory.
Lalalalia- the realization while talking to yourself that someone else is within earshot, which leads you to crossfade into mumbled singing, an auditory sleight of hand that distracts the audience from the exposed platform under your persona while you prepare to saw your confidence in half.
And we can’t forget the fantastic words from other languages that give us feelings and ideas not so succinctly said in English.
Tsundeoku (Japan): act of leaving a book unread after buying it, piled up with others.
Saudade (Portugal): a nostalgic feeling of missing someone or something you love.
Ubuntu (South Africa)- the belief that we are defined by our compassion and kindness towards others.
Palegg (Norway)- anything and everything you could put in a sandwich.
A word can be anything you want it to be and do anything you need it to do. The more the world grows and changes, the more language will grow and change with it. The power of our 26 letters is pretty much limitless, and nowhere more so than the library!
If you would like to read more on this topic we recommend:
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