Love Language

No, I’m not talking about the 5 Love Languages; I’m talking about a language that is unspoken yet understood between two people who love each other.

I’m currently in the middle of reading Anna Karenina, near the scene where love has blossomed between Levin and Kitty.

The way they communicated with each other to confirm their reciprocal love was not through a spoken language.  To be discreet amongst the people with whom they were gathered, they merely jotted down letters as codes for their questions and responses.

Here is a snippet of the passage:

‘How can I stay alone… without her?’ he thought with horror and he took the chalk.  ‘Wait,’ he said, sitting down at the table.  ‘There is one thing I’ve long wanted to ask you [Kitty].’

[Levin] looked straight into her tender though frightened eyes.

‘Please do.’

‘Here,’ he said, and wrote the initial letters: w, y, a, m: t, c, b, d, i, m, n, o, t?  These letters meant: ‘When you answered me,: “that cannot be”, did it mean never or then?’ There was no likelihood that she would be able to understand this complex phrase, but he watched her with such a look as if his life depended on her understanding these words.

She glanced at him seriously, then leaned her knitted brow on her hand and began to read.  Occasionally she glanced at him, asking with her glance: ‘Is this what I think?’

‘I understand,’ she said, blushing.

‘What is this word?’ he said, point to the n that signified the word never.

‘That means the word never,’ she said, ‘but it’s not true!’

He quickly erased what was written, gave her the chalk and got up.  She wrote: t, I, c, g, n, o, a.

… He suddenly beamed: he had understood. It meant: ‘Then I could give no other answer.’

He glanced at her questioningly, timidly.

‘Only then?’

‘Yes,’ her smile replied.

‘And n… And now?’ he asked.

‘Well, here, read this. I’ll tell you what I would wish.  Would wish very much!’ She wrote the initial letters: t, y, c, f, a, f, w, h.  It meant: ‘that you could forgive and forget what happened’.

He seized the chalk with his tense, trembling fingers and, breaking it, wrote the initial letters of the following: ‘I have nothing to forgive and forget, I have never stopped loving you.’

She glanced at him, the smile staying on her lips.

‘I understand,’ she said in a whisper.

He sat down and wrote a long phrase.  She understood everything and, without asking him if she was right, took the chalk and replied at once.

For a long time he could not understand what she had written and kept glancing in her eyes.  A darkening came over him from happiness. He simply could not pick out the words she had in mind; but in her lovely eyes shining with happiness he understood everything he needed to know! And he wrote three letters.  But she was reading after his hand, and before he finished writing, she finished it herself and wrote the answer: ‘Yes.’

In their conversation everything had been said — that she loved him, that she would tell her father and mother, that he would come tomorrow in the morning.

Thus, the two lovebirds communicated without talking, and everything was understood.

It’s funny how communication works between two people who love each other. Even with the simplest conversations, like giving directions, you would think that the two would understand the most ambiguous of phrases, simply because they know each other so well.

But that didn’t happen to me and my husband today in a rather comical situation.

We ate lunch at a ramen place and decided to get dessert at a popular ice cream shop nearby.  We had 10 minutes left on our parking meter and thought it would be okay to quickly get ice cream and make it back to the car since there were only a few people waiting out the door (usually there’s a long line out the door). We walked over and stood in line, realizing that though we were up next to go inside, there were 3-4 groups inside deciding on orders. Husband was getting anxious about the parking, so I told him to get the car while I ordered for him and to wait for me in the lot behind the ice cream shop.

When I was paying for the ice cream, he texted me, “I parked on College Ave., head away from the ramen place.”

Confusing, no? Where on College Ave., and what did he mean by ‘away‘???

(To provide a bit of context, College Ave. extends for ~3 or 4 miles north and south, and the ramen and ice cream places are both on College Ave.  When husband said “away from the ramen place,” I immediately wondered “north or south?”

I stood outside the ice cream shop, holding two cups in hand, one beginning to drip on the sides. I texted him, “What do you mean ‘away’? North or south?”

“South, opposite the ramen place.”

Again, I wondered, “What does he mean by ‘opposite‘?” but continued to walk south, because that’s what he said.

While walking some distance, maybe a 1-2 minutes later, he called again asking where I was; perhaps this was our only moment of understanding in which we understood that we didn’t understand each other.  Maybe he had a feeling that I wasn’t going where he wanted me to go.

And alas, I was going opposite of where he wanted me to go. When he said ‘south’ he meant ‘north’ (because he has a horrible sense of direction), and when he said ‘away’ and ‘opposite’ of the ramen place, he meant, ‘towards the ice cream shop.’

It is (sort of) my fault; I knew this about him; I knew he had  a horrible sense of direction, and I knew he always, always, without fail, instinctively went the opposite direction of every destination we have ever embarked upon. I should have known that when he said south, he meant north.

I laughed and laughed, and he was perplexed.

first lines

Found a fun link on “100 best first lines from novels” (via 101 Cookbooks).

Some I’ve read, some I haven’t, but all very enticing…

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”  – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

“I am an invisible man.” – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”  – —Samuel Beckett, Murphy (1938)

“124 was spiteful.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

“Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing”. – Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605; trans. Edith Grossman)

“For a long time, I went to bed early.” – Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (1913; trans. Lydia Davis)

“Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” – George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)

“It was love at first sight.” – Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

“Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden.” – David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System (1987)

“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929)

“Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.” – Charles Johnson, Middle Passage (1990)

For the Love of Words

Sometimes I like to read about the man (Ammon Shea) who read the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in one year.  Mind you, the complete OED is not one book; the full version consists of 20 volumes.  Ridiculous yet commendable — he (Shea) liked reading dictionaries (his favorite book is the dictionary) and one day proposed the idea to an editor and made it his job.  Amazing.  I tried reading the (one-volume) dictionary in middle school, but I gave up halfway through A because of all the prefixes.  He read it while taking notes, most of the time in the NY Public Library or the basement of the Hunter College Library, and wrote a book on his insights called, Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages (2008). He acknowledges the strangeness of enjoying reading the dictionary, but he also states,

Some people collect matchbox cars or comic books.  Others collect more obviously valuable things, such as rare paintings or cars.  Most of these collections are made up of tangible objects, things to which one can assign some sort of monetary value.

I collect words. ….

As far as hobbies go, it is as most of them are — largely useless.  Contrary to what many self-help books would have you believe, adding a great number of obscure words to your vocabulary will not help you advance in the world.  You will not gain new friends through this kind of endeavor, nor will it help you in the workplace.  At best you might bore your friends and employers, and at worst you will alienate them, or leave them thinking that there is something a little bit wrong with you. …

Some people find it odd that I take such pleasure in an activity that is so inherently Sisyphean.  Of course, I don’t find it odd at all: think about your favorite book, and how endlessly satisfying it would be if that book never really ended.  The dictionary is my favorite book, and even if I did one day manage to read all the way through every dictionary and word book I own, I could always go back to the beginning and start again.

His book is not an analysis of all the words in the OED, but it is a short collection of words that are not (commonly) used, words that are not in a regular dictionary, and “words as curios rather than new words to use in daily conversation, contenting…with the fact that such strange and lovely words exist at all.”  For each word, he adds short reflections and insights, often humorous because he connects the words to how they would/should be used in real life.

Here are some of my favorite words from his list: (they are excerpts from the text)

  • agelastic (n.) a person who never laughs.  Grim, but with fewer wrinkles.
  • airling (n.) a person who is both young and thoughtless.  Although it might well seem redundant to specify a person as both young and thoughtless (how many words do you know for one who is young and thoughtful?), airling does us the favor of employing a certain amount of both gracefulness and economy.
  • apricity (n.) the warmth of the sun in winter.  A strange and lovely word.  Not to be confused with apricate (to bask in the sun), although both come from the Latin apricus, meaning exposed to the sun.
  • atechny (n.) a lack of skill; a lack of knowledge of art.  Reading through the dictionary, I am struck again and again by the fact that many words that describe common things are obscure, while many words that describe obscure things are widely known.  For example, everyone knows the word dinosaur, even though no one has ever seen or met one.  Yet, even though we are faced each and every day with artistic ignorance and lack of skill, very few of us know the word atechny.
  • balter (v.) to dance clumsily.  It’s nice to find a word I can use to explain why I’ve always hated to dance.  I’m a balterer.
  • bully-scribbler (n.) a bullying writer.  It is difficult for me to take the notion of a bullying writer too seriously.  Perhaps once upon a time this was a fearsome thought, but there is good reason why today people think of the oafish thug in the schoolyard when they think of a bully — a punch to the jaw hurts more than an unflattering squib.
  • conjubilant (adj.): being jubilant or rejoicing with another person.  This may look like an odd word, and may even seem like an odd concept, were it not for the fact that were there a word for “rejoicing all alone, because there is no one who will share in your happiness,” that would be even odder.
  • consenescence (n.) “growing old together; general decay.” Perhaps it was unintentional, but it is nonetheless humorous that the OED‘s editors saw fit to include the notions of decaying and growing old together in the same entry.
  • elucubration (n.) studying or writing by candlelight.
  • foreplead (v.) to ask too much in pleading.  You are pleading when you ask for your job back; you are forepleading when you ask for a raise to go with it.
  • gobemouche (n.) one who believes anything, not matter how absurd.  From the French words gober (to swallow) and mouche (fly).
  • grinagog (n.) a person who is constantly grinning.
  • heterophemize (v.) to say something different from what you mean to say. Think back on all the things you’ve said in life that you truly wish you hadn’t.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just claim afterward that you had been heterophemizing, and be instantly forgiven?
  • iatrogenic (adj.) pertaining to symptoms caused unintentionally by a doctor.  I cannot think of a single word that means “cured by a doctor.” This is why I do not go to the doctor.
  • jentacular (adj.) of or pertaining to breakfast. Some of you reading this are no doubt thinking, “Why do I need this silly little word that describes ‘of or relating to breakfast’? The answer is you don’t need it.  But it is also true that you don’t need the overwhelming majority of words you use throughout the day, either, and jentacular is far more charming than most of them.
  • jocoserious (adj.) half serious and half in jest.  Jocoserious is in some way an example of itself — it looks like a very serious word, but it’s really quite silly.
  • mothersome (adj.) anxious or nervous in a way a mother is.  A cynic might notice that there is only one letter difference between mothersome and bothersome.  I, of course, would never draw any parallel between the two.
  • onomatomania (n.) vexation at having difficulty in finding the right word.  Finding a word that so perfectly describes a rather large portion of my everyday existence is one of the things that makes reading the dictionary feel like an intensely personal endeavor.  The book is no longer merely a list of words; suddenly it is a catalog of the foibles of the human condition, and it is speaking directly to me…
  • pandiculation (n.) the act of stretching and extending the limbs, in tiredness or waking.  Everyone does it, and no one knows what to call it.
  • redeless (adj.) not knowing what to do in an emergency.  Redeless has a variety of meanings, but this is the one that speaks to me the most.  In yet another case of the rare thing enjoying a common word and vice versa, it is interesting to note that redeless has largely (or entirely) fallen by the linguistic wayside, while savoir faire (which originally meant “knowing what to do in an emergency”) has survived.
  • sesquihoral (adj.) lasting an hour and a half.  Because sometimes you just don’t feel like saying “an hour and a half.”
  • subtrist (adj.) slightly sad.  I suppose there is really not much difference between this and many others, such as glum or melancholy.  But I like the way subtrist looks and sounds, and all other Romance language seem to have fashionable words like triste, which elegantly convey sadness with a Continental flair.  Sometimes a word does not have a special meaning — it’s enough simply to like its style.
  • sympatetic (n.) a companion one walks with.  I found sympatetic hiding in the middle of a list of words under the prefix sym-.  Discoveries like this one are what make reading the OED from cover to cover worthwhile.
  • tacenda (n.) things not to be mentioned; matters that are passed over in silence.  The incident with the broccoli.  Your Aunt Tilly’s first husband.  Where that scar really came from.
  • toe-cover (n.) a present that is both useless and inexpensive.  We all know that it’s the thought that counts, but sometimes part of that thought should be not giving a useless present that you picked up at the corner store at the last minute.
  • twi-thought (n.) a vague or indistinct thought.  My head is filled with twi-thoughts these days, and all are variations on a single theme:  that word I’ve forgotten, the one flitting around somewhere in the back of my head, teasing my lips and not quite coming close enough to remember.
  • umbriphilous (adj.) fond of the shade.  Although this is a botanical word, used to describe things arboreal, I choose to use it to describe myself.
  • utinam (n.) an earnest wish or yearning.  Utinam is derived from a Latin word of the same spelling, which originally meant “oh, that!”  Etymologies like this one make me doubt that languages are in fact formed in a logical rule-based fashion.
  • videnda (n., pl.) things worth seeing; things that ought to be seen.  What every travel guidebook promises to capture and never actually does.
  • yepsen (n.) the amount that can be held in two hands cupped together; also, the two cupped hands themselves.  A measurement that has never really caught on like the teaspoon, the yepsen also falls firmly within the category of things for which you never thought there was a word — at least, not until someone interfering busybody like me came along and told you what it was.
  • yesternerve (n.) yesterday evening.  There are a number of words for describing time, well beyond simply saying today, tomorrow, or yesterday.  hesternal: of or relating to yesterday, nudiustertian: of or relating to the day before yesterday, overmorrow: of or relating to the day after tomorrow, postriduan: done on the following day, yestermorn: yesterday morning.
  • zyxt (v.) to see.  There is nothing terribly interesting about zyxt.  It is the second-person singular indicative present form of the verb “to see” in the Kentish dialect and has obviously not been in common use for some time.  …It is the very last word defined in the Oxford English Dictionary.

(I can’t believe I typed them out; this entry wasn’t meant to be this long). (It’s funny how the listed words above are underlined in red because they’re not considered words according to the WordPress dictionary). But anyway, I enjoyed reading Reading the OED because I too love words and I can relate to the author’s struggle in twi-thought, with onomatomania, and heterophemizing.  I too wish I could think of (or knew) the right word for all moments.  If there’s isn’t a word for everything, I’m sure there’s something similar.