Word Play

I love playing with words.

They are perhaps the most fun toy in the world. With them, you can make anything.

Traditional word games like crosswords and word searches are great--I await the Pennysaver eagerly each week because it contains both of those things and I like the way the pen feels on that newspapery paper as I write in my answers in careful, all caps lettering or make my circles, trying not to let them touch any of the printed letters.

Board games based on words are my favorite kind, and subsequently the kind that people least enjoy playing with me. Scrabble can become (mostly jokingly) controversial with my boyfriend because he always tries to convince me that his made-up words are valid and I preside over the board with a dictionary to keep things on the up-and-up. Scattergories is another one I can play for hours and hours, rifling through the stacks of words in my brain and unearthing them by letter and category.

Then there are the Jeopardy categories that require a nimbleness with words. I always do best on those--the ones that start with or have to contain a certain letter or sequence of letters are easy for me, but the ones with the before-and-after are a fun challenge. I like these categories better because they feel more involved than straight trivia--they require knowledge of the words but also the manipulation of that knowledge in clever ways. Same with any questions about foreign language terms; making guesses based on the similarity of the root of a foreign word I don't know is exciting, and of course very satisfying when I get it right. It's not just that I love getting correct answers; it's like there's an ever-growing forest of language in my brain and I've just found a way to swing from the branch of one tree to another.

But probably my favorite kind of word play is the realm of neologism and nonsense. Those close to me are aware of (and often infected with) a largely emotionally-driven, onomatopoeic dialect that I have cultivated throughout the years, in which I might tell you that I'm "meeping" or ask you if you're "crinched". I just assume most people will intuit the meanings of these through sound and context, but if pressed I can provide detailed definitions. ("Meeping" is of course the act of being sad about something, but in a small way. It isn't as petulant as pouting and it's not as dreary as moping--you'd rarely cry if you're meeping, but things could always take a turn for the more emotional if you're feeling meepish. "Crinched" seems to be a sound combination of "cranky" and "pinched", and refers to a state of being slightly annoyed, uncomfortable, and bothered--more annoyed and with a harder edge than if you were just miffed, and with a little more anger. Being crinched isn't a very persistent state though; it's like your nose is out of joint but it shouldn't take much to put it right. If you're squinched, though, it make take a little more effort to bring back a sunny mood.)

Another part of this dialect of mine is a kind of phrase or expression that I refer to as a "brain breaker". I hear them or think of them and it's like I can physically feel things going haywire inside my brain; the rest of the day will be a bit more distracted and off-kilter because of their presence. Most people find these things totally innocuous and unremarkable but when I hear them or say them, that's it for me. Some of the all-stars in this category are "dogfood commercial," "cat calendar," and probably the most destructive, "salt lick." (I just stopped writing and helplessly laughed for an entire minute.) These phrases find their way into my consciousness when I am tired or otherwise distracted and they've become like filler utterances when I'm muttering to myself or at a loss for what to say.

A whole game sprouted up during my college years from this kind of nonsense phrase. My oldest friend and I would try to come up with good ones and go back and forth trying to out-do each other by putting together words that by sound and/or definition were amusing in combination. It was called "Susan In A Cup" and although there was no formalized point system, extra prestige was awarded for thinking of ones that already existed within our language, such as "cauliflower ear."

Clearly I've always been like this. I'm aware how incredibly nerdy all of this is, but I don't mind. Being an only child makes you come up with creative ways to stave off boredom and the ability to amuse myself (although perhaps no one else) with these games is something I cherish. With words and language as playthings, I'll never be bored.