96 Ways

“We are so limited. You have to use the same word for loving Rosaleen as you do for loving Coke with peanuts. Isn’t it a shame we don’t have many more ways to say it?” ~ Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

I was a linguistics minor in college. Had I discovered my passion for formal language study earlier in my college career, I would have been a double major. Yet, I spent most of my time and effort on partying rather than studying and, though I graduated with a 3.6 GPA, I did not in any way apply myself nor did I leave the university with any semblance of a life plan. I wanted to write and that was it.

And, even my writing was scattered and undisciplined. I almost did not graduate because I nearly failed to turn in a portfolio for an advanced poetry workshop. I remember my professor emailing me after seeing me quite intoxicated the night before: “Party Girl, If you want to graduate, I need your portfolio today.” I was, fortunately, generally liked by my creative writing professors and this one was a kind enough to allow me to drop off a packet of forced villanelles and shoddy sonnets to his private home. Perhaps, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have graduated at all. At some point, I would have to face the consequences for my inappropriate and, even then, addictive behavior.

Still, despite the fact that I often borrowed pencils from other students in my classes and got by on my talent for writing papers on books that I never read, the study of linguistics opened my mind to the power of language and its impact on culture. I was amazed to discover, for instance, that not all languages included words that signified gender. I had a professor who was writing the first formal dictionary for a Quechua language spoken by an indigenous people in the Andes Mountains of Peru. In this particular dialect, there is no “she” or “he.” There is only “human,” “animal,” or “God.” In studying this language, I was struck by the equality inherent in this lack of gender qualification. I started to examine my own use of language ever more closely, noting that the English language, as a construct, emphasized male dominance and power. Uh, whoa!

I am currently reminded of my linguistic epiphanies, not because of feminism and patriarchy, but because I was struggling today to express in words the overwhelming gratitude I have for the love in my life.

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