Words fascinate me. They’re the way we express ourselves, albeit not so well at times, but could you imagine life without them? Sometimes I joke and say that I didn’t major in English, I majored in words…because that is my true love, that is why I love literature so much, because I love words. Who else would ask for the “Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary” as a Hanukkah gift two years ago? And yes, I am serious. I am staring at it sitting on my shelf right now. It has literally every word in the English language since its birth, from the first recorded use to, sadly for some, the last. It is by far one of my most cherished possessions…yes, I did just say that about a thesaurus.
I am constantly in search of le mot juste (French for, the right word). Friends will attest to this…and so will my mother. Sometimes I feel like it takes me forever to write down one sentence because I get stuck on finding the perfect word for a thought that is circling in my head. It’s not that I can’t write, it’s simply that my brain sometimes cannot fathom using the “wrong” word, so if I’m at work I surf the online dictionaries and thesauruses, and if I’m at home I use the real ones until I find the word that I am looking for. Other times, simply making a cup of tea helps. The soothing aroma and warmth that it brings is sometimes enough. (And by the way, if anyone was wondering, my tea bag quote today says, “empty yourself and let the universe fill you,” interesting, right?)
I am not alone in this though. The author Gustave Flaubert spent his whole life in search of le mot juste as well. He constantly tormented his brain in search of the perfect word, rejecting clichés, as he believed that the essence of a great writer was his originality. Most, if not all of Flaubert’s published works took years for him to complete because of that and he was never completely satisfied by anything that he did. His novel Madame Bovary, for which I am currently awaiting its arrival, took him five years to complete.
So what is it all about? Why do writers like Flaubert and the likes (oh, and me) constantly search their brains, picking them apart for one teeny little word? Because finding the right word can be like finding the perfect pair of shoes or electronic gadget…or having sex; when you find the right word, that word that conveys perfectly what your mind is formulating, it’s euphoric.