I am nibbling at the edges of The Writer’s Portable Mentor, reading a page here and there with my morning yogurt, absorbing Long’s pretty words. And when I got to page 31, “Make your own lexicon,” the day after I bought a brand new Moleskine, I couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off my face:
Buy a small bound and sewn blank book, with fine paper… Put in words you like, words that strike your fancy, words you want to own… Do nothing more. Do not try to force the words into your writing. Just work on the Lexicon on a regular basis, as a form of play.
I am compiling my Lexicon, y’all, and with only five carefully selected words (so far), it snuggles next to the thesaurus on my shelf. Though I was tempted to fill the pages with favorites as soon as I opened my blank book, I am practicing restraint. I enter words according to some vague criteria that I’m not even sure of, but that as far as I can tell includes the sound of the word:
lex·i·con n. 1. A dictionary. 2. A stock of terms used in a particular profession, subject, or style. 3. The “x” and hard “c” sounds make Lexicon sound potent, like it should be capitalized, like is laden with power and magic, like it should lie open on a podium as a reference for all to turn to when there are answers we seek.
Its ability to evoke feeling:
jan·gle n. A harsh metallic sound. v. 1. To make a harsh discordant sound. 2. To grate on the nerves. 3. I remember this word from The Paris Wife, the way it jarred me when I read it, how skillfully Paula McLain used it to describe her shattered character: “Steffens took me to dinner and tried to calm my nerves, but even with several whiskeys in me, I jangled.”
Its ability to evoke imagery:
hum·us (hyoo’ mus) n. 1. An organic substance of decayed vegetable or animal matter that provides plants nutrients and increases soil water retention. 2. Humus is dark, rich, moist, mysterious. It is natural, and life-giving, yet it is made from death. Humus smells earthy, feels crumbly, gets under your fingernails, leaves brown stains on the knees of your jeans.
Its ability to be used in metaphor:
lim·pet n. 1. Any of numerous marine gastropod mollusks as of the families Acmaeidae and Patellidae, having a conical shell and adhering to rocks of tidal areas. 2. One that clings persistently. 3. “Our daughter is a limpet on my thigh.”
and just because I like it:
drom·e·dar·y n. 1. The one-humped domesticated camel of northern Africa and western Asia. 2. A brand of the water bag we use for camping and backpacking (the MSR Dromedary). Though I didn’t know what it meant, the word always captivated me. I loved the way it sounded when, once we pitched tents and made camp, our friend said, “I’ll go fill the Dromedary.” I saw the word again on the tiny jar my pimientos come in, and realized that Dromedary is their brand name, too. So I had to look it up. While the water bag is obvious, the connection between camels and pimientos is still somewhat of a mystery to me.
Long suggests that by gathering words like this, words that are different from what we hear on TV, or read in the newspaper, or are trendy or cliche, we can unstick ourselves from what she calls “conventional received diction.” In others words, we can free ourselves from repeating the same words and phrases we already hear and read and see all around us. I love this practice, and look forward to collecting words as I bump into them. I’ve already highlighted a few in the book I’m reading, but I’m not sure yet if they are worthy of my (capitalized) Lexicon.
What about you? Do you collect words? And if you were to compile a Lexicon, what words would you gather in it?