Words. Palabras. Strings of letters, squished together to form meaning. Big words, small words, words held together with seventeen hyphens.
I love ‘em.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve pursued them in every way possible: reading them, writing them, eating them. Recently, they’ve become an important backdrop to my otherwise unremarkable life. I write as much as possible, always chasing the next Great American Bundle of Gibberish. And even as my book-in-progress (BIP for the lazy eyes out there) continues to grow longer and denser before my screen-fatigued eyes, I pursue words to their literary end.
It’s this insane love for the vast majority of words in the wonderful English language that makes my unadulterated hatred for a very select few that much more intense.
These are words that I would wage war against, were they vague concepts or ideologies. These are words I would vote against in democratic elections. These are words I would never opt to be stranded on a desert island with, lest this hypothetical island is merely a theater for a fight to the death, in which case you’d better believe I’ll be channeling my inner Rambo up in that bitch.
Most of the time, it’s easy to avoid these terrible, awful words. But sometimes, one of them sneaks its way into whatever I’m writing as the most logical choice, and it ruins my fucking day.
Take tonight, for example.
A seemingly innocent sentence, in which a character looks up scientific facts about drinkable alcohol. All fine and dandy, except the word my brain poured onto the page was potable.
Rage. Ire. Nuclear holocaust. All fail to describe the hatred I have for that damned P-word.
“But Rausch, you must expound upon this irrational hatred for a very rational word.”
If I must, let’s travel back in time. Say, 1995. A chubby little third grader is taking the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by storm with his inhuman ability to spell words several reading levels above his age. He goes on to place third within the Archdiocese, getting a sweet shot of his even sweeter slicked back hair on the evening news in the process.
Fast forward five years. This third grader (who is definitely me, for those playing at home) is now an eighth grader. He’s just beasted his way through the spelling bee of his own elementary school, and now he’s on his way to the South Jersey regional. He makes his way to the semifinals, so confident that he eschews the provided list of words he can expect to encounter. In the third round, he steps to the microphone, and the announcer slaps him in the face with the bitter taste of the unknown.
“Mr. Rausch, your word is potable.”
The sweat begins to bead in the center of the boy’s bowl cut. He’s never heard of such a ridiculous word.
“Repeat, please.” Either the youngster’s ego prevented him from the embarrassment of asking anything of anyone, or the netbook this blog is being typed on cannot type a question mark. Regardless, the demand was made.
“Potable.” Spelled here, it’s correct. But the enunciation provided by the announcer absolutely, without-a-doubt replaced the ‘T’ in the center with a rolled ‘D.’ The wonders of the Philadelphia region, people.
Naturally, the speller took the announcer’s bait, sounding out the word as it was repeated.
Buzzers sounded, old women hissed, and a great big cane came from offstage to drag the loser away, out of every spelling bee for the rest of human history.
And that’s that. Since that horrible day, the P-word and I do not get along. I avoid camping because of it. I’ll never go to Mexico. A job with the water department is completely out of the question.
But despite my unwavering death campaign against the hated word, tonight taught me a lesson. In a BIP that’s currently on pace to surpass 500,000 words, it’s nearly unavoidable to have an undesirable slip through here and there. And hey, if it truly makes sense, then of course I’ll use it when necessary.
But only then. With gritted teeth. And maybe a little hate puke in the back of my mouth.