Advice From David Foster Wallace On Occupying A Child
A lovely post from the blog of writer Dave Madden:
“A couple years ago, I blogged about my beloved Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, and how it includes little bits of copy about words and their usage by writers like David Foster Wallace, Francine Prose, Zadie Smith, Simon Winchester, and the composer Stephin Merritt (among others). I bought a copy online and keep it always near my desk.
Did you know everyone already has a copy on his or her Mac?
It’s part of the built-in dictionary. Type in a word, click on “Thesaurus” in the little bar above, and you’ll get the word-for-word entry from this book I paid money for.
Better yet, it also has all the “Word Notes” by these writers. For instance, this DFW gem:
A paradoxical noun because it means beauty but is itself one of the ugliest words in the language. Same goes for the adjectival form pulchritudinous. They’re part of a tiny elite cadre of words that possess the very opposite of the qualities they denote. Diminutive, big, foreign, fancy (adjective), colloquialism, and monosyllabic are some others; there are at least a dozen more. Inviting your school-age kids to list as many paradoxical words as they can is a neat way to deepen their relationship to English and help them see that words are both symbols for things and very real things themselves.
Here, as a public service, is the list of words with notes by DFW:
as, all of, beg, bland, critique, dialogue, dysphesia, effete, feckless, fervent, focus, hairy, if, impossibly, individual, loan, mucous, myriad, noma (at canker), privilege, pulchritude (at beauty), that, toward, unique, utilize.
Something else I can’t help but quote, from his entry on that:
It so happens that you can occupy a bright child for most of a very quiet morning by challenging her to use that five times in a row in a single coherent sentence, to which stumper the solution is all about the present distinction: He said that that that that that writer used should really have been a which.” Read more here.
How gorgeous is that image of a bright child on a very quiet morning?
I’m grateful to Madden for reminding us that we can enjoy the beauty of our English language even more with the help of great writers.