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Word to the Wise

A single word can convey a breadth of meaning that far surpasses its humble existence.”

The impact books have on our lives is not limited to the words written between the covers. Some books inspire new thoughts and send us to unexpected places. Follow me Down the Rabbit Hole in this recurring segment.

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is a thought provoking graphic memoir that stirs up thoughts about death, gender identity, sexual expression, and art as expression or escapism. These are some really good deep-dive subjects. But that’s not where my mind landed this week. Instead, it kept coming back to one word.


Inspiring, I know.

I understand that most books have words. It’s just that this one seemed to out-word the rest. Impressive for a graphic novel. Or maybe not.

There’s a certain pleasure that’s awarded when using the perfect word to describe an experience or feeling. A single word can convey a breadth of meaning that far surpasses its humble existence. It’s the thing poems are made of.


It’s also the thing awesome puns are made of.

Image by Neel on Upsplash

Reading Bechdel’s memoir I drew an unexpected parallel between poetry and graphic novels. Within a limited word count, each word carries a heavier load, perhaps conveying multiple layers of meaning.

At least I think so.

Frankly, there were a lot of words in that book that I did not know. Even as an avid reader, the sheer number of unfamiliar words were a first for me. It’s almost enough to make me think there’s a large portion of the English language I’m completely ignorant of.

This doesn’t bother me in the least. I’ve always considered my own vocabulary to be about average. I love words, claim to want an extensive vocabulary, and at the same time, prefer to spend my effort elsewhere.

I realized those mysterious, deep-cut words were chosen because they alone conveyed the story. Just as Bechdel’s literary references added depth to the story while minimizing dialogue in her novel.

Oh, to read this book as an English-lit major!

But not everyone feels the same about it as me.

An extensive vocabulary is not the virtue it once was. Before technology, letter writing was an artform, where a good vocabulary aimed to delight the reader whilst conveying care and effort symbolic of the relationship.

And today?

Being learned is not what it once was. A sesquipedalian conversationalist or book can be regarded as pompous or pretentious. Perhaps it is a symptom of the way modern language is commonly employed for utility and speed, rather than an artform in of itself. Or perhaps many of us are still carrying around insecurities from our school days, afraid of being sorted into the stupid group rather than the smart group.

This can change if I consider unfamiliar language as art. And like all art, I need not understand the full intention of the artist nor recognize the whole of the masterpiece to glean meaning from it.

That’s a fancy way of saying that when I see a word I don’t understand, I don’t sweat it. If I get the gist of it, I merely carry-on. If I’m still lost, I might take the opportunity to learn something new.

Which I did. I may not be an English-lit major, but I enjoyed Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home nonetheless, and now feel compelled to further explore the genre. And poetry, too.

Have you written or received a letter lately? Does an extensive vocabulary attract or deter you in reading or conversation? What’s your favourite word?

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