I met my first grandchild on Tuesday. She was four-and-a-bit days old. It also happened to be my sixtieth birthday. What a birthday present. It won’t be too long, I expect, before she discovers that she is quisquillosa.
This is the Spanish word for ‘ticklish’, and a lovely word it is (pronounced keeskeeyosa). You can feel it in your mouth. It sounds like a little girl’s giggle.
On our Dark Angels courses we do an exercise that helps to make the point that words have character beyond their meaning; and that in the meaning-obsessed world of business writing, character is frequently overlooked.
So we ask for a favourite word. Invariably, people’s responses are influenced as much by sound and rhythm, texture and tone, even how the word looks on the page, as by meaning. We celebrate this, because the character of all good writing, whether business or personal, derives in very large part from the choice of words we make. (If that seems like a statement of the obvious, just read a couple of pages of your insurance or utility company’s annual report.)
When we’re in Andalucia we ask for a favourite word in Spanish. Some people are fluent, some have a smattering, some have none. But everyone knows at least one word in Spanish, even it if it’s simply ‘si’ or ‘señor’. So our opening list of Spanish words adds a dash of salsa to our linguistic deliberations. This year, like my grand-daughter, quisquilloso made its debut.
In due course the little girl herself will start to learn a new language, her first. By then she will have a name, one of the most important words in her vocabulary. I hope she’ll grow up to know what it means – names come with their own power. I also hope she’ll like the sound it makes, even the way it looks. Because this will be the first step on a journey that will lead her, if she’s fortunate, to the same love of words, the same delight in language, as her grandfather – and, I’m happy to say, her father, my new son-in-law.
Congratulations on the birth of your grandchild! You old friend Les Scher is trying to contact you. He will be visiting Europe the last few weeks of October. We have attempted to reach you through email and several telephone numbers Les has for you. If you receive this please contact him at his office number (707)923-2128.
Jamie, have you ever read Owen Barfield's 'Poetic Diction'? Based on some of Steiner's philosophy and a rejection of academic cant. He writes provocatively about the way meaning depends on the quality and character of langauage and words.