Saturday, September 22, 2007

You Know,
The Whatzit

As I've mentioned, I was the Ultimate Oney-Oney when I was little. The oldest child of two oldest children, and for five years the only child**, the only grandchild, the only great-grandchild, and the only niece. I was the center of the universe, the child who only had to breathe to endear herself to a passel of relatives. One set of great-grandparents had been teachers, and everyone in the family was bookish and valued education. I impressed my family by learning things. Counting and reading and nursery rhymes. Songs and stories and jokes. The way to command even more attention than I already got by the simple act of being there, was to talk.

And I was a great talker. Verbal to the point of garrulous. Big words were a big hit, so I practically fed at the dictionary. If I didn't know what a word meant, I would ask, and when I was old enough, I would look it up. Added to all of the talking and reading aloud that people did with me, I taught myself to read when I was four, and there came a bunch more words. I always read in advance of my age, and I was as apt to use a word from one of those books as one that I heard at the dinner table.

I love words. I have always prided myself on my vocabulary. On knowing the exactly correct word to convey the slightest shading of meaning. On being able to come out with a dozen synonyms. It was my very best thing.

So, you can imagine how frustrating it is that I sometimes have to wait and excavate for a word. That, at times, it is hours or even days before the correct term presents itself. If I can't think of the word when I need it, it just haunts me until I do get it. I go around feeling that empty space on my tongue where a word is supposed to be until it finally comes out and gives itself up. Sometimes days later. Often in the middle of the night, so that I wake up to go to the bathroom and suddenly there it is! "Aha!" I exclaim in victory, "Table! That's what that thing you eat your meals on is! Table!"

Oh, yes. That's the other frustrating thing about it. It is seldom something like complementary schizmogenesis that I forget. Oh, no. Not a term that there might be some excuse for forgetting. It is so often a simple word like table or carrot or tonsil. A word I've known forever.

* Image from The Visual Thesaurus.
** Other than an older half-brother and sister, who we seldom saw, and a brother who died when I was three.

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