Books as a single entity are all very well, but I’ve been thinking lately about the individual words that make up the things I read.
Cormac McCarthy will do that to you. Pick up any of his books, from The Road, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner, to No Country For Old Men, Suttree, and the two that are coming out as movies this year, The Counsellor and Child of God and there is a wealth of wondrous words throughout.
Then the sun buckled and dark fell like a shout – Outer Dark
I’m currently reading Outer Dark, written in 1968. It is set in the last part of the 19th century, as near as I can tell, and this bleak, gut wrenching book is filled with wonderful words that fit this period and I found myself writing some unknown words on my bookmark to check later in the dictionary. He is known for making up words and I love this about him, he feels unfettered by just the English language, despite having a rich love of it.
…the house was grown with a rich velour of moss and lichen and brooded in a palpable miasma of rot. – Outer Dark
It had me thinking about how each word crafted into a piece of writing adds to the whole, some you don’t notice, but some leave you amazed or confused or thoroughly impressed. Does Mr McCarthy for example, go hunting dictionaries for words that are obscure to colour this prose, or is he just incredibly well read? His turn of phrase and the pictures he conjures in my mind are just beautiful sometimes, well, often. I often hear myself saying words like ‘cool’, or ‘awesome’ out loud to myself as I read, obviously I don’t share his breadth and depth of language.
By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp – The Road
So I’ve compiled a little list of some of the discovered words from Outer Dark:
- moiled - whirled or churned ceaselessly; twist; eddy.
- penduluming: what a pendulum can be caught doing when it feels inclined to.
- palmoutward- not a new word, he must have decided to run the two words together, just because he could.
- malediction - the utterance of a curse.
- recrements - refuse separated from anything; dross.
- consubstantial -of one and the same substance, essence, or nature.
- moonwraught – another lovely combo-word.
- revenant - a person who returns as a spirit after death; ghost.
My two favourite words at present would have to plinth and moist, just for the way they sound when you say them.
McCarthy is rarely interviewed, avoids book tours or signings, and said about this:
I don’t think it’s good for your head, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to write a book, you probably shouldn’t be talking about it. You probably should be doing it.
Do you have favourite words, or authors whose use of language you find inspiring?