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Friday, 30 May 2014

The Wonder of Words

Last weekend I read a really good article by the DJ Chris Evans about the value of reading bedtime stories. It was a story told from the heart and one of the things he said was that he wished he knew more words and knew how better to weave together more magical phrases. He felt that he was too late to join the 'word party'. Actually I don't think this is true. But why is it that some words and facts are easier to remember than others? In my cloakroom I have a map of the United States and I am trying to remember all of the state capitals. Some stay in my memory quite easily but others are elusive. I think I have remembered them but they slip away and lurk around some inaccessible corner of my mind. Why, when I drove through Salem, Massachussetts last October, can I not remember that another Salem is the state capital of Oregon? Yet, Helena, Sacramento, Carson City and many others sit in my mind more easily.

My mother was a brilliant gardener and she was also adept at remembering the Latin words for plants. Again, some come easily to me. A few weeks ago I planted some Hordeum Jubatum seeds. This is an ornamental grass also known as squirrel tail grass. Although it doesn't look like much at the moment (my husband keeps likening it to twitch grass), it should (if it stops raining and doesn't drown!), develop beautiful, feathery, pink fronds which glisten in the light. I find these two Latin words Hordeum which means barley and Jubatum - crested, quite easy to recall. I also have a lovely, small flowered, palest pink fuchsia called Magellanica Alba which trips off the tongue. But in my front garden I have a swathe of snapdragons.

And lately I have been struggling to recall their Latin name, Antirrinhum, which I have known for ages. Is this the first sign of a memory problem I fret, as words which I have known for years suddenly play hide and seek? Or is it just that I have too many other things swirling around in my head. I hope it is the latter.

At the moment I am reading a wonderful book, actually probably one of my favourite books of all time.

 I first read A Gathering Light a few years ago and on a second reading it is just as wonderful. The main character, Mattie, loves words. She tries to learn a new word every day and most of the chapter headings are words - 'som-nif-er-ous, de-his-cence, ico-sa-he-dron', fabulous, wrap-around the tongue words. Mattie is a perfectly drawn character. For a writer she is a masterclass in how to not only build your characters in depth but also how to give them a strong, authentic voice.

I'm not learning a new word every day but my task for this week is to memorise the Latin name for my pink cow parsley.

Chaerophyllum hirsutum Roseum. Hmm! Could be a tall order but like Chris Evans and like the character of Mattie in A Gathering Light, I know that I'll never stop loving words and trying to learn new ones.

Thank-you for reading and I hope you have a week filled with heart-warming words.


  1. what a lovely post.....and I shall definitely have to read "A gathering light"! I adore words too and I can remember as a child being read to and not necessarily understanding what some words meant, but enjoying the sound, the cadence....
    Like you, I struggle to remember names ....of people, plants and it's getting worse as I get older....

  2. Thank-you Bridget. Now 'cadence' that's a lovely word! I used to write things down when I was revising for exams and that helped or maybe I'll just have to try and clear my brain of all the stuff I don't want to remember. There's a challenge!