The words come in a torrent. For me, they always have. I’m still stung by the mocking laughter of my third-grade classmates the day my teacher said I had “verbal diarrhea.” An ugly phrase, especially to a sensitive eight-year-old, but he wasn’t wrong. I do love words and can’t seem to get enough of them. Words can be bouquets, and they can be bullets. Shields and salves. Dance steps and disguises. Magic potions and magic carpets. Their range of utility is breathtaking.
As a child, you don’t think about language as more than speaking. You just pick it up and play with it, as if it was a stick lying on the ground. But language isn’t a natural element of the earth; it’s a human invention. The concept of etymology and the revelation that every word has its own origin story blew my young mind. Not only that, but languages, themselves, follow evolutionary paths, growing into complex family trees with common roots and divergent branches. Learning that words are not the things they describe but symbols for them was practically a mystical experience. And that some languages don’t even have words for concepts that I talk about every day, yet they may have multiple words for things my own language does not bother to name.