Wednesday, October 05, 2005

On language

In my meeting yesterday with Bailey and Greg, we shared their readings of poems and prose of Charles Goodrich. The language of the poet relies on the way words are steeped in cultural associations. Each word comes tripping with habiliments and garlands of metaphor. Which is precisely why scientists sometimes find it best to start from scratch, even to the point of inventing fresh vocabularies. Little x, y and z marching naked through the world.

In the Introduction to his Wildflower Guide, Roger Tory Peterson lists sixty ways that a botanist can say that a plant is not smooth: aculeate, aculeolate, asperous, bristly, bullate, canescent, chaffy, ciliate, ciliolate, coriaceous, corrugated, downy, echinate, floccose, flocculent, glandular, glanduliferous, glumaceous, glutinous, hairy, hispid, hispidulous, and so on. The dictionary defines both "aculeate" and "echinate" as prickly, and one might reasonably ask why a good English word like prickly won't serve the purpose. The botanist, I am sure, has an answer, involving subtle shades of meaning. The poet, though, knows prickly works in ways aculeate would never work in a poem -- puncturing, piercing, impelling, impregnating, standing erect, pointing heavenward.