Friday, June 30, 2006

Finding the words

The older I get, the more I lack a simple skill called "word-finding." As a medical transcriptionist, I know that that phrase is used in cases where someone has had a stroke or has other debilitating brain conditions such as dementia. It's not that serious for me, but it's something I have noticed lately.

It's not so much that I can't think of someone's name (although that happens), or that I cannot identify a pencil in my hand (thank God, that has never happened). I simply do not have an adequate vocabulary to describe my feelings - about myself, my loved ones, my life, my joys, my disappointments, regrets, and worries. The older I get, the less I think with the brain and the more I think with the heart.

Our language has its deficiencies, for one thing. We seem to lack the language nuances that other cultures possess. Ed tells me that groups such as the Eskimos have hundreds of words just to describe "snow" - because snow is very much an important part of their lives. We basically have wet snow and powder snow.

But even with the expanse of English vocabulary at my fingertips, I cannot settle on an acceptable way to describe something. As a nondrinker, I get tickled when I read descriptions of wine, for instance. How do they come up with that? Here are some description samples taken off one wine web site: "Ruby red color and aromatic. The wine has a pleasant nose of mint, blackberry and hazelnut." "The wine has an elegant and complex nose, with ripe red berry fruits and lush aromas of spice, tobacco, and vanilla." "Mid-palate is very well fleshed with ripe fruit and cherry flavours in a smoothly-knit structure."

They are just as wordy with perfume reviews.
"Today I am trying Calycanthus, which Acca Kappa describes as a "fresh, floral scent created with the unique essence of the Calycanthus flower blended with notes of Jasmin, Orange blossom honey and Musk."

This starts sweet and sharp. I am guessing there is some honeysuckle in the top notes, and possibly a touch of citrus. The dry down is a really pretty, spring-like floral, with slight green notes. There is a lovely spicy kick that I assume comes from the calycanthus — there are several varieties of this shrub, which are variously known as sweetbush, western spicebush, and Carolina allspice.

It has a sparkling quality, and manages to capture the aroma of honey without being overly sweet. (This review is from this site.)

Well, more power to them. I don't have enough taste or odor sensitivity to be able to distinguish all those individual contributions, and even if I did, I lack the vocabulary to voice my opinion in such a creative, exact manner.

With taste or smell, all I can say is: Either I like it or I don't, and maybe I can denote degrees to those feelings.

I have always loved words; that is one reason I enjoy medical transcription, grammar, spelling, and the like. I love obscure words, strange words, unpronounceable words - all of it. I love certain words for the sound of their syllables, others for how they look when they are written out. Yet, the longer I live, the more words fail me.

How can I find words to tell my family and friends how much I love them? To tell Ed how thankful I am to be married to him? To tell all my relatives how much happiness and laughter they have brought to my life? To explain how wonderful being a grandmother makes me feel? How do I tell people the release I feel when they have forgiven me? How do I explain how it feels to have had so many teachers (educators and life teachers as well) invest their time in me? How can I explain to someone the euphoria that overwhelms me when I hear Beethoven or Mozart? How can I describe the gut-wrenching worry I feel when my children are out driving in bad weather or the pit in my stomach every time I leave my 83-year-old mother in Memphis, knowing I might never see her again?

At some point, language fails. That cliche "Words cannot express...." is true. "A picture is worth a thousand words" - also true. "Actions speak louder than words" - true again.

Or course, I still try. But if, in the ensuing years, you think I'm a little quieter, slightly more pensive, somewhat more introspective, I might just be at a loss for words. But my heart will be talking a mile a minute.


Tif said...

I think you just told us.

And I'm so envious of your writing ability! Just when I think you can't get any better . . .

Jackie said...

I want to let you know that I really enjoy your blog.

Carol Tiffin James said...

Thanks, ladies. Jackie, I see you have a blog, and I will be sure to look at it when I get a chance.

Harrie said...

I very much relate to this article. It's uncanny, how well it fits me personally!

Thanks for the enjoyable read!