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#3629 - 06/23/00 11:52 PM Thoughts about words
Avy Offline
old hand

Registered: 06/23/00
Posts: 724
I've had fun reading - finally gathered guts to put a post myself. While browsing the net I came across this

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought, and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.
- - - Oliver Wendell Holmes, opinion, Towne v. Eisner, January 7, 1918

The phrase "skin of living thought" stuck in my mind not only because it's poetry, but it helped me while writing (when words weren't coming easy, working more on the thought helped). I wondered whether anyone else has come across interesting descriptions/observations/opinions about words, they liked.

#3630 - 06/24/00 12:41 AM Re: Thoughts about words
Bingley Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 04/09/00
Posts: 3065
Loc: Jakarta
Nice to have you with us Avy. The first post is always the most difficult, but look forward to hearing a lot more from you.


#3631 - 06/24/00 08:35 AM Re: Thoughts about words
paulb Offline

Registered: 03/17/00
Posts: 460
Loc: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Hi, Avy, thanks for that phrase. And welcome!

#3632 - 06/24/00 12:13 PM Re: Thoughts about words
Jackie Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11609
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
Welcome, from another.
Have you published any of your writings?
You know (and, in contrast to many of my other posts, I
am not trying to be funny here), your question made me
think about trying to describe what words, and language in
general, mean to me. They are so important to me that I
can't find the right words to say how important they are!
The closest thing I can think of is a quote from an
advertisement, that language truly is "the fabric of our

#3633 - 06/24/00 11:56 PM Re: Thoughts about words
Avy Offline
old hand

Registered: 06/23/00
Posts: 724
Thanks all, for the welcome. It helped me to put up my feet and feel at home.
Words and language! You're right Jackie - they are important. But I have found there is a flip side to it. Sometimes one has to be wary of words. They are tricky bastards. (whoops, sorry, I haven't read the thread on expletives yet )
If you give words too much importance, they don't treat you well. Run behind looking
for them to express yourself - you get the cold treatment. The more you run - the more they play 'hard to get'. One way to fix them is forget about them and work on the thought instead.
To work on the thought - storm the page! Just write what comes to mind. Forget pretty words, forget fancy ideas - just write and write fast - any thing and everything. You will then get a page full of your thoughts. Then you can play with the thoughts - scan them, skin them, put a skin on them. They are yours to do with what you want. By this stage if you haven't already got the words you want, looking for them is less tough. By now they've been potty trained and lot more controllable.
Sorry! I didn't mean to turn this into a "Avy Writing Classes (pay in advance)". I have been battling over this for long, I wanted to share my experiences. A good book on this is "If you want to write" by Brenda Ueland.

#3634 - 06/25/00 03:14 AM Re: Thoughts about words
lusy Offline

Registered: 03/16/00
Posts: 140
Loc: Melbourne, Australia
Yeah, welcome from me too Avy. Loved your last post re writing. I do a little editing/proofing of one sort and another for various newsletters, magazines, etc, and the thing I am always telling folk who are in despair facing that frightening blank page (or screen) is exactly that. Write the first thing that comes into your head, disjointed and ill-formed though it may be. Forget composition and niceties of phrasing. Just write something! Put it all down in a great heap and sort it all out later. The concept of putting a "skin" on these jumbled thoughts, turning them into a meaningful expression of your ideas is a nice one. Look forward to hearing more from you.

Rgds, lusy

PS. May I recommend a visit to our serendipitously inventive spell-checker? It's a ripper! It wanted to turn you into AWAD (how about that!), and suggested "rhapsody lute" instead of "Rgds, lusy". I may just adopt that one.

#3635 - 06/25/00 10:00 PM Re: Thoughts about words
Avy Offline
old hand

Registered: 06/23/00
Posts: 724
Rhapsody Lute ! That's lyrical. Shakespeare the Spell Checker.

P.S I upset it! It didn't like the word lyrical. It suggested lyrics.

#3636 - 07/11/00 03:19 AM Re: Thoughts about words
wsieber Offline
old hand

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 1026
Loc: Switzerland
>A word ... is the skin of a living thought<

Dear all,
I think this thread merits to be reactivated. It has the potential to return some much-needed depth to the talk.
The word as the skin of a living thought, among other attractions, brings a sort of synthesis to the long-standing philosophical dilemma of whether a thought can exist without words preexisting. The skin is an integrating part of an organism, growing together with it.

#3637 - 07/11/00 11:25 AM Re: Thoughts about words
Jackie Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11609
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
Dear wsieber,

>A word ... is the skin of a living thought<

Skin: not only covering up (hiding?) what's underneath,
but the first and most obvious representation/impression
of the "meat" underneath!

>>The skin is an integrating part of an organism, growing together with it.<< Now, this made me think of infants, and the research that has been done to try to "know" what they are "thinking", if they can be said to think at all,
in the sense that we have of the term. Pre-speech infants
clearly have something going on in their brains!
As soon as their eyes can focus, they stare at the faces of their caregivers. At about three months, they begin to
definitely react to their environment (smile when they see
a caregiver). To me, this says that they are aware that
pleasant things are associated with a person. (A side note:
there is some evidence to show that even very young infants
recognize their mother by her smell.)

Whether these reactions constitute "thought", I don't know.
But, let me pose this question: have you (anyone) ever
daydreamed in pictures? To say nothing of sleep dreams!
Are they thoughts, as well?

Ever since I was a child, I've thought (!) how wonderfully
clear our communications with each other would be if we
could directly transmit our thoughts (on command only!)
in mind-pictures, telepathically!

Are our thoughts and feelings our "real" selves?
If they are, and since as yet we don't have telepathy (sigh!), we are left with words as the primary way to
communicate our "real" selves. (I'm not forgetting art,
music, etc.) Therefore, it behooves us all to take
great care in choosing our words, because this is how we
reveal AND conceal ourselves. Sometimes what we DON'T
say gives more clue to our "real" selves than what we do,
did you ever think about that?

Harking back to a previous thread, I think carefully
choosing our words is particularly important in communicating via electronic screen, since there are no
non-verbal clues at all to give the recipient any hidden
meanings to what you say.

#3638 - 07/12/00 03:38 AM Re: Thoughts about words
wsieber Offline
old hand

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 1026
Loc: Switzerland
Hi Jackie,
>Skin: not only covering up (hiding?) what's underneath,
but the first and most obvious representation/impression
of the "meat" underneath!<
You got my thought exactly right, from my words - without telepathy! Yes, the first idea of "skin" might be the hiding aspect, but it does not make sense. The skin is necessary to give an understandable (and transmittable) shape to the "meat". It is also there to distinguish inside from outside, "you" from "me". I am a bit skeptical about the "telepathy on command" idea: The "raw data" of your thoughts might interact less favorably and less predictably with my system than the same in "coded form".

#3639 - 07/12/00 05:24 AM Re: Thoughts about words
Avy Offline
old hand

Registered: 06/23/00
Posts: 724
Dear Jackie and Wsieber

What comes to mind is:

"A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.

I say it just
Begins to live
That day." Emily Dickinson

There is something to this analogy of - the word being a thought born into this world and thought being words in gestation.
Though extending the metaphor gets my "words in gestation" all tangled up. Maybe be wordless thoughts are a very nascent stage in the whole process - maybe the DNA stage or if the DNA has epidermis (I don't know if it does) may be the genetic code stage of the DNA - which have been expressed in words they say. Jackie - I'd like to think smell and picture day dreams are thoughts too. That's the stuff of surrealism. I guess stream of consciousness is keeping the words as close to their nascent - thought stage as possible - not working too much on the skin. . That's thinking aloud.

#3640 - 07/23/00 06:27 AM Re: Thoughts about words
Bridget Offline

Registered: 06/27/00
Posts: 444
Loc: Sydney Australia
"Translation is entirely mysterious. Increasingly I have felt that the act of writing is itself translating, or more like translating than it is like anything else. What is the other text, the original? I have no answer. I suppose it is the source, the deep sea where ideas swim and one catches them in a nets of words and swings them shining into the boat...where in this metaphor they die and get canned and eaten in sandwiches. The bring something across, one needs a boat; or a bridge; what bridge? The metaphors all self-destruct. I am left with the stubborn feeling that composition, whether of poetry or of prose, is not all that different from translation. In translating you have a text of words to work from; in composing or creating you don't; you have a text that is not words and you find the words. That's a difference, of course, but the job, getting the right words in the right order, getting the measure right, is the same. Feels the same.

....the places where our literature is alive, unfixed, on the move, defying definition. What is this stuff? Is it spoken or written? Both. Is it narrative or ritual? Both. Is it poetry or prose? Both. that's the sort of stuff I want to be able to compose myself. I want to learn how to make translations from the languages nobody knows, nobody speaks. The translations will not be as good as the originals, but then, they never are."

Ursula Le Guin.

The last two lines are the best description I have come across yet of the glory and the frustration of writing.

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