By Laurel Airica
“Play with words … is one of the most beloved practices of human beings the world over and through0ut recorded time.” Walter Redfern, Puns, Basil Blackwell Press, 1988
Anyone who ventures to horse around with the English language is bound to get carried away. For words – like horses – are full of wild energy and have a mind and magic all their own. Ride the language long enough – especially off the beaten path – and you’re sure to get transported to a surreal whirled in which words speak for themselves and tell us who we think we are.
Actually, we live in this world of back-talking words all the time. It’s just that we’re really not all (H)Ear and so rarely pay (A)Tension to the secondary commentary bubbling up from the running stream of verbal burble that goes babbling through our minds and pouring out in every conversation.
If we did give our words a fair hearing – perhaps because we were a-frayed we might one day have to eat the very words we spoke ingest when we disgust a tasteless subject – we’d probably chews them a lot more carefully providing that we had the wherewithal.
Fortunately, not much is required to acquire such a skill. Although it takes an unADULTerated child or accomplished animal communicator to let us know what our horses are saying about us ¬– behind our backs and while we’re on their backs – anyone can become a WordWhisperer who eaves drops on the unheard words that echo through our double talk.
All it takes is a penchant for whimsy and a childlike inner sense that words can cast SPELLS and that wRITES may set off lasting rePercussions beyond our spoken inTensions. Only then do we discover that hidden in plain view – in the sonograms created by some words’ reVERBerations – are images of how our culture envisages reality, which may vary very greatly from what we usually believe.
For example, though we think of our abstract language as what distinguishes us from the other creatures, we frequently use vocabulary that lynx us back to our animal origins.
Consider that at various times women have been referred to as chicks, foxes, bitches and nags – who like to yak a lot; while men have been described as wolves, cats, beasts, and rats – who buffalo and badger women for a little tail, carp about their imperfections, then jump the fence like a dirty dog to take a gander at the bird next door.
Still, well beyond this realm of obvious borrowings are words that reSound with our real view of the world – even without our conscious consent.
For instance, why wouldn’t a man have a Peter Pan complex if his only alternative is to become groan-up and a dolt? Who doesn’t feel some apprehension at the prospect of becoming committed for life? And isn’t it natural to shy away from the wedding ring when its primary purpose is to stop our circulation? Yet, since the effects of careless love are soon to become a parent, what are we to do?
All of us need to feel kneaded and loved. But there’s a wide spread intimacy-phobia among us that’s reflected in that very word – in-to-me-see – as well as other words related to relationships.
Behold the OUCH in TOUCH and the potential for being hurt if we get too CLOSE and then LOSE our connection to the object of our affections (and projections). When we suffer such reversals of EROS we get SORE. So, it’s little wonder that no sooner do some couples UNITE then their lover’s (K)NOT begins to UNTIE.
A Few Rules for Verbal Engagement
Anagrams and puns are highly popular forms of wordplay. Anagrams consist of different words formed by rearranging the same letters – as when MARITAL turns MARTIAL.
Puns – also known as homonyms, homophones, homographs as well as other more elegant and obscure terms – are words that share the same sound but not the same meaning and not necessarily the same letters, as for instance when DUEL finds itself inextricably locked into DUAL.
Then, there are the heteronyms, those words that look identical but harbor different sounds and meanings – as exemplified by CLOSE. When used as a verb, CLOSE means to shut, lock, seal or secure. But when used as an adjective, it describes us as physically proximate or emotionally intimate.
Ironically, one must feel secure in order to open up, get (C)LOSE with a (L)OVER and then face the risk of loss through our willingness to love. Given how fraught with emotional tension this venture can be, it’s little wonder that OPEN has the option of scrambling into NOPE with hardly a mOMENt’s notice.
The Urge to Merge
This series of paradoxical pairs reminds us that opposites attract but may also attack. So, though we all enter this world of duality through a union of opposites – and everyone emerges from the Universal wH●le – there is still the animal urge to feel SUPER-I-OR to others. And many are taut by their culture to harbor an aversion to a version of reality that appears to oppose their own.
This is the cause of the common coldness that grippes humanity in DisPAIR. It is also what can cause a romantic honeymoon to turn into the lunacy of wedded blitz. It is thus essential to keep in mind that even when we differ and suffer, we are all a part of all that is and can never be apart from the rest of Creation – including the very words we use to speak about our lives.
Words are a mirror of our minds. And English makes it clear that if we want to heal we must RePAIR all the opposing forces within and between us.
The word OPPOsite demonstrates how this can be done; for it begins with two consecutive letters of the alphabet that then repeat in opposite order. What better illustration of partnership is there?
We find a similar message when we look more closely at the word immunity: IMmUNITY. All forms of conflict diminish in size and frequency when we live in a state of forgiveness and atonement – also spelled AT-ONE-ment.
So, how did our words get to be so reflective and instructive? And why have we ignored their wisdom for so long – especially when it comes to marriage and horses?
Does Everything Happen by Chants?
Words – like horses – are an ancient means of conveyance. They, too, have a tale and leave a trail that tells us where they’ve been.
Etymologists are word trackers who trace the history of a word’s origins, migrations and permutations over time into different forms, meanings and languages.
But what of all those random words that – like so many people – seem magnetically drawn across continents and cultures to share a common resonance and residence with each other even though they may lack an historical connection? Does this occur simply by chants – or is there a deeper, unnamed force at work here?
I call such linguistic synchronicities the ‘Homonym FUNomonym’ – while others call them meaningless coincidence. Some say there’s ‘no such thing as a coincidence.’ But since apparently unrelated people, horses, words, and events are constantly co-inciding with each other unexpectedly – and often with miraculous results – I am prone to say that there are actually innumerable coincidences few of which are lacking in significance.
Though A Noise Annoys Aloud’s Allowed
Early cultures encouraged such wordplay as a means to promote literacy and language mastery. In our own culture, however, wordplay like this is basically considered foolish fun that belongs to the realm of humor and advertising.
For many centuries, Westerners have further dismissed puns as the lowest form of wit. Thus today, even those unfamiliar with this old bias are still likely to say, ‘pardon my pun’ when indulging in one. Their listeners typically respond on cue with a groan of condescension – regardless the pleasure they took in the fun.
Our ancient predecessors had no such qualms about words whose sounds convey multiple meanings and whose letters make sense in different arrangements. Early Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek and Roman scholars were highly attuned to the philosophic, scientific and even divine implications they perceived in homonyms and anagrams.
The word anagram, itself, transposes into Ars Magna, the ‘Great Art’ in Latin. And indeed, the ancients were alert to the possibility that re-ordering the symbols in words could reveal esoteric messages and valuable prophecy.
Two of the greatest writers in the English language – William Shakespeare and James Joyce – frequently employed double entendres to communicate simultaneously on many levels at once through a single word or phrase. So, what is it with us that we still dismiss most wordplay as nonsensical?
Since words emerge at the convergence of culture and consciousness, we can actually learn a lot about ourselves – and even encounter our own deeper wisdom – if we simply look more closely at the surface of our words, let their resonant cymbals ring bells in our minds, and become less dismissive of co-incidence when we find strange verbal bedfellows wedded through their sounds.
Words to the Wise
The nearly unpronounceable word ‘onomatopoeia,’ which means ‘name-making’ in Greek, is a term we use for words that sound like what they’re meant to represent – as in tingle and clank, fizzle and pop, crash and bang.
I know of no comparable term for self-defining words that depict their own meaning through their spelling. For the moment, I’ll call them pictonyms.
Only a few pictonyms have been widely noticed thus far. There is dis-ease and also the recognition that History really is His Story. There is also a growing awareness that LIVE turns EVIL when we get it backword. However, since language is not merely grammatical but holo-grammatical as well, it is actually rife with such punning and anagramatical messages that we mostly overlook or under hear.
When we do give our words a closer inspection, we find the whole purpose of life on Earth is spelled out in two primary English pictonyms that bring us back full circle to marriage and horses.
We’ve all heard that it’s love that makes the whorled go round and it certainly can leave us spinning and buzzing. So, it’s not surprising that when we turn LOVE, itself, completely around we get the primary letters for the word EVOLve.
Love is, indeed, the evolutionary force that brings opposites together to create new life. Thus, the words LOVE and EVOLve, when woven together, intertwine like the strands of DNA to depict the whole basis for life.
DNA, too, has meaning in reverse. Turn it around and it becomes AND – the ultimate connector and expander.
The English language offers further evidence that love is the basis and purpose for life on EARTH. When we move the final letter in our planet’s name from the end to the beginning, we turn the EARTH into a HEART. And if we keep the H at both ends of the word, we come up with HEARTH – which represents the comforts of HOME.
It’s easy to conclude from all of this that the purpose of Life on Earth is not to get ahead of everybody else in the human RACE but to get a heart full of Love to share with each other. For like marriage and horses, LIFE’s an unSTABLE GAMBOL. And only LOVE has the horsepower to keep us in the race.
Laurel Airica is a writer-poet and expert English linguist who dances with words through her WordMagic performances, presentations and seminars as well as offering her editing and Intuitive Empowerment Counseling services to clients worldwide.