Lost and Found
Bookworms and bibliophiles love books. Foodies love food. Oenophiles love wine. As a logophile, I love words. Can you guess my favorite word of all? I'll give you a clue: at the age of 21 this Colorado girl found love in Madagascar. And then as a result of distance (oceans and continents), time and circumstance, it became a love lost. 12 years later I found it again.
Retrouvaille definition: In French "trouver" is to find something. Add the prefix "re" and you "re-find" something. Retrouvaille thus refers to a friend that you have found again, but not just any friend, a bosom-buddy, a BFF, someone who "get's you." In English, we find the words to represent these close friendships, but we lack any truly "retrouvaille feeling words" in English, which means that we'll just have to use the French!
Logophiles love words.
Yep, that’s me. I am a logophile.
As a logophile, I can quickly get excited about the etymology or the origin of a word. I am fascinated by words that exist in one language, but not in others. And, I adore words that have slightly different nuances. As a student of anthropology, I also tend to note how vocabulary reflects the differences between languages and cultures. It's an inside game for me to modify my word choice to suit my audience, be they American, English, South African or Australian. My thesaurus is a reliable and dog-eared friend. Tragically, my love of words nearly spelled death for my career as a writer. Thankfully, the experience of retrouvaille presented me with the time and the situation to reflect and find my path home, back to the written word.
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How my logophilia prevented me from becoming a writer.
Logophilia & Lover’s Quarrels
As a logophile, I confess that I am apt to get a bit snippy over how people use words. The connotation of a word is critical! If someone (up there) is keeping a tally, the record indeed shows that I am willing to defend the virtue and intent of my word choice. Disagreements of course often stem from misunderstanding -- if only everyone paid attention to word choice, perhaps we'd have world peace!
Logophilia comes into play in my life as I search for words to express the perfect meaning or make an underhanded joke (or insult). I am also concerned with the implications and connotations of words. Contextual intersectionality, for example, is an excellent example of how word choice can help us to acknowledge or deny another person's experience. By definition a logophile, of course, loves words. The root word of "logo" hailing from the Greek verb "to love."
Logophilia definition: By definition a logophile, of course, loves words. The root word of "logo" hailing from the Greek verb "to love." Logophilia is then the act of loving words, but also the act of wordplay. When you love words, you can't help but also play with them!
One of the reasons I love my husband so much is that he also loves words and meaning. He is particularly fond of word jokes with subtle sexual undertones. He too adores riddles that trick people (usually our kids) into saying or doing something silly. One of his favorites is a line of questioning about Napolean's horse that concludes with most neophytes responding that cows drink milk (not water)!
Some couples argue about finances or the kids, while our most heated and memorable disagreements often center on words. Notable debates include the following words: silly, indigenous, and mammal. Not all on the same day or even the same week mind you, and yet these were severe disagreements involving dictionaries, raised voices, and internet research.
For better or worse, my arguments with my husband over the connotation of words and appropriate vocabulary choice is not a solitary experience. I've been getting into trouble over words my entire life. From the time I spent a morning in the quiet room as a three-year-old, to just last week!
Before Google: Dictionaries & Writers Inc.
In 3rd grade, I earned the nickname “dictionary.” My claim to fame did not yet refer to a propensity to use and love large and or exciting words, but rather that I had mastered looking up and finding words. Our teacher kept a huge, ancient, and leather bound unabridged dictionary on a podium off to one side of our classroom.
Looking up a word in the dictionary, required taking a step up onto the podium and flipping through the papery old pages. I loved the experience and the power of knowledge, literally at my fingertips. Standing on a podium is also pretty sweet at the age of 8. If my classmates needed a word looked up, either to verify the spelling or to learn the meaning, I could find it in that big old book in an instant.
A Crushed Spirit
By 6th grade, I owned a thesaurus. And in 7th grade, I learned to write essays. Essay writing thrilled me to no end. Literally! I kid you not! What fun to use the power and influence of words to argue, persuade, compare and contrast.
Sadly, in 7th grade, I also had my spirit crushed. My first essay came back with a large “D” written on the top. And, even when I thought I’d cut back on my creative wordings, my papers came back marked in red with “word choice” and “delete this” peppering the page. I had my work cut out for me as a student of Honors English. I wrote and rewrote until I earned an A.
On a positive note, my English teacher also introduced me to a technical manual called Writers INC. As an excellent reference and a source of great diversion, Writers INC became my writing Bible. At the back of the book, the authors included a handful of useful appendixes. The most valuable of these appendixes: a list of MLA proofreading marks. The most fun: a list of bad translations from foreign languages into English.
Lost In Translation
Every time I needed a good laugh, I could count on the page of translation mishaps, a list of 20 or so informational signs poorly translated from various foreign languages, into English. You can find several of these mistaken translations from Writers Inc. on this Wikipedia page that explains the origins of translation humor. The following sign, purportedly from a hotel in Moscow, is one of my all-time favorites:
A sign in the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery states: “You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists and writers are buried daily except Thursday.”
Writers Inc helped me to keep my writing grammatically accurate until the book fell apart and disintegrated. Fortunately, this didn’t happen until it had been in use for a good 10 or 11 years, and by then I had an entirely new resource at my fingertips: Google. Today, Google remains a loyal ally. Each time Grammarly or Microsoft Office tries to tell me a word is not in their dictionary, my fingertips run to Google for validation. And, if I need a good laugh, searching “translation fails” on Google is sure to deliver!
Follow Your Passion
Frankly, most, if not all of my successes and achievements in life relate directly back to my ability to write and my passion for communicating through the written word. Surprisingly, a Scientific Writing course in the Biology Department at CU Boulder did more to hone and refine my writing skills than any other class. Unlike my middle school teacher, Professor Sally appreciated my love of words and creative word choices. She understood that effective technical and professional writing should also be engaging.
Under Sally’s tutelage, I learned to write compelling and fluid, yet technically accurate reports and documents. In the years since, I have penned service guides, technical manuals, fundraising plans, employee handbooks, newsletters, research papers, blog posts, articles, marketing copy, white papers, and grants.
Effective writing is like water
Before moving to France in 2013, I spent several years as the Executive Director (ED) of an international NGO. I wrote my way into that job by creating a 3-year financial development plan for their outgoing ED. In the span of a few months, I went from volunteer to ED. I wrote my way into my dream job.
My most reliable recommendation for the job: my relationship to the written word and my ability to organize ideas persuasively. And yet, despite my writing successes over the years, from the honor of graduating Phi Beta Kappa to writing and winning a $100,000 grant, I didn’t ever consider myself a writer.
Good writing is like water. It can go just about anywhere it wants. (That may be a quote from Writers Inc, I don’t quite recall.) I write to communicate. I chose words that engage my senses and give me pleasure. When I write, my underlying goal is to ensure not only that what I write makes sense, but that my document flows and captivates.
I am a writer
I have a sensuous relationship to words. I love how certain words roll off my tongue. I hear words, phrases, and idioms in my head like music. And I know that words are the magic behind humor. But, until recently, I never considered my relationship to words to mean that I am in fact a writer. In my mind’s eye, I saw my love of words as cheap and silly. I shied away from sharing my musings, and I simply wrote to communicate or achieve predetermined goals.
Why did I think this way?
I remember the moment, sitting at my desk, with the late afternoon light shining in from behind me. I’d come to speak to my middle school English teacher to find out why exactly she’d marked my beautiful essay with big old ugly “D.” In a few words, she said, “your writing is too flowery.” That to be an effective writer, I must put down my thesaurus and stay focused on the assignment at hand.
She may have taught me to structure my writing efficiently, but she also crushed my young love affair with words. Alison the “dictionary” and the budding logophile, came to an abrupt end sitting at a desk in an English class. The irony.
A Simple Epiphany
A few months ago, I started writing a piece about my father, Bill Border. I’d been inspired to write a biographical sketch of him for an art magazine. When I asked my dad why he paints, he responded that since childhood, he had no choice, but to create. A few weeks later, I had my epiphany when I realized that my path is through the written word. He paints. I write.
In April, I committed to a personal 30-minutes-a-day blog writing challenge and found that my biggest problem is only writing for 30 minutes. Once I start writing, I have trouble stopping. And so now my mission is to embrace my logophilia and my writer’s spirit, by putting them to good use, both to make a living and to make the world a better place.
A Personal Retrouvaille: Me, Myself and I
Sometimes our best friend is not waiting to be found, but already inside. Rediscovering my love of writing and embracing my love of words is like rediscovering a best friend. Finding purpose at my keyboard is exhilarating. And helping others to find themselves through words and language is inspiring.
I have arrived. I am home. I might be feeling a bit precocious.
If you need to say something with words, but can't find the right ones or are not sure what to say, ask me, I am at your service.
The Greatest Retrouvaille of All
We are not yet at the end of the story. The most noteworthy reason for my love of the word retrouvaile, is that my husband is the greatest retrouvaille of my life. We first met in 1998. I'd flown half-way around the world from Colorado to Madagascar for my semester abroad.
While in Madagascar, I lived with my husband's family, falling in love not only with him, but with his entire family. The experience changed me forever on a spiritual and an intellectual level. But at the age of 21 I didn't really believe in true love nor did I know how to make an international relationship work.
Fast forward 12 years and my husband decided to take a road-trip across the United States. The moment we saw each other the electricity flew. The greatest retrouvaille arrived at my front door and life forever changed. Not only did we find a way to write our own story, but the experience cracked me open in a way that continues to provide opportunities for me to grow and discover.
Do you have a retrouvaille story of your own? Are you a logohpile? Share your stories of retrouvaille or the written word below -- I want to know!