10. Book Words

I grew up with my nose in a book. So did you, or you wouldn’t be reading a blog by a writer. If your father was a doctor and your mother was a lawyer, this post is not for you. If your father was a plumber or a mailman – or a farmer – you undoubtedly suffer from book words syndrome.

On the back of every Hardy Boys book was an advertisement for the Nancy Drew book The Golden Pavilion. Or, as I read it, The Golden Pav-UH-lon. I mispronounced it in my head for six or seven years before I heard it spoken and corrected myself. I carried the word a-THE-ne-um around until, at a party for newly published authors, one of my newfound peers said, with just a hint of condescension, “It’s pronounced a-thu-NE-um.”

It comes from growing up in low or middle class surroundings while reading books by first class minds. You end up carrying around thousands of words which you read and write, but never speak or hear spoken.

Dictionaries don’t help much, as I’ll explain in the next two posts.

All this doesn’t make you better than your friends, but it does make you strange. I suppose in a large school you could find others like yourself and make up your own geek clique. In my little town, I didn’t have that option so I became bilingual – book language in my mind, but Okie when I spoke aloud. When I forgot to translate, I got the strangest looks.

There is a danger here beyond simple embarrassment. Little kids with heads full of big words can become impatient with simple language. If you plan to be a writer, that can be a disaster. Writers have to get rid of book words baggage early, or they will remain erudite and unpublished.

Book words still throw me off from time to time. Ennui (internally pronounced IN-u-e, just like it looks in English) and ennui (spoken with a French flavor) floated around independently in my head for decades before Pete Hutter said, “There’s nothing like a revolution to break up the ennui of ordinary existence,” on the TV show Bricsco County Jr., and I suddenly realized they were the same word.

That doesn’t make me dumb; it’s just the curse of book words.

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