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an essay by ralph robert moore
Words once were paired, like so much else in biology, but the pairing eventually split apart as words became less corporeal, evolving into their present state as mere sounds.
In the beginning, words were actions, were objects, rather than designations for such. 'Run' was a part of the legs as much as sinews and adrenaline; 'sky' hung over its enunciation, and its pronouncement could produce rain, even tree-top whipping gales.
The evolution of words followed biological trends, frog-hopping through mutation. The first mutated words were articles, essentiality finger pointings, shedding their corporeality about the same time campfires illuminated unpainted cavern walls. Nouns were the last to turn exclusively into sound, losing their heft. Only a few nouns and verbs still exist not only as sounds, but as substance. Their shadows are 'nigger' and 'fuck'.
It is difficult, but not impossible, to examine a single word to learn what other word it was originally paired with. Once a pairing is established, one needs to wonder why these two particular words were paired to begin with, and how the pairing makes the meld so much stronger, more evocative and complex than the two parts separated.
Listed below are the discoveries of several pairings:
Q: Some obvious connections come to mind. 'Ghost' in effect turns 'Gloat' into a portmanteau word: 'glow' and 'float'. Woman and wound. Obviously, the wound can represent menstruation, and the female sex organ, which is sometimes referred to as a gash or cut. There also seems to be a reference to Eden, the woman 'wounding' the man with the apple, and to the violence done to women by men since then. But how do 'mouse' and 'music' relate? Isn't that an arbitrary pairing? Aren't you trusting too much in alliteration here?
A: Not at all. Music is thought of as the 'universal language', in that its sound does not represent specific meaning, unlike words. If we look at the vocalization for 'mouse', we see that although the filling-- the vowels-- may vary from culture to culture, the shape of the word itself, with its 'm' start and 's' finish, is the same in all the Indo-European languages spoken by men: Greek, Latin, Old English, Russian and Sanskrit. 'Mouse' is one of the few words, along with 'nose', that is the same in virtually all the languages men have spoken since language began. And 'mouse' also carries with it the mispronunciation of 'muse'.
Q: 'Apartment' and 'Apparent'. There's the close alliteration, of course.
A: Sometimes alliteration hints at a former pairing, but it isn't enough in and of itself.
Q: I see the 'rent' in 'apparent'.
A: And also the 'parent'. Apartments are where the child goes to get away from the parent, to continue the segue to adulthood.
Q: Often living with a roommate, which I suppose is where the 'pair' in 'apparent' comes from.
A: Right. Plus in 'apartment' you have the idea of being 'apart', but 'apart' is also 'a part'. Separated from the family but still in contact, and also apart from, and a part of, the life of the roommate.
Q: Which is what is 'meant' to be. With both words, with their alliterative openings, I see the yellow-red curve of an apple, which could relate to the original roommates, or am I going too far?
A: Not at all, because that takes us back to the original parent/apart story. But remember that after having delved into the syllables of two words, which necessarily teem with lots of little words, you need to look again at the two whole words, to see how 'apparent' and 'apartment' were once joined, much like 'ghost' and 'gloat' were; much like 'lobster' and 'forever' were. The point to this exercise is not to find puns and portmanteaus; the point to this process is to see how 'ghost' and 'gloat' came from the same super word; how 'ghost' and 'gloat' or 'apartment' and 'apparent' once were one word that evoked something infinitely more rich than their separation or comparison.
background on the essay
I wanted to write about words, but I wanted to do it in a perverse way, so I produced this theory of pairings. I believe there is some truth to it, that when we say one word we do evoke a second, tenuously attached, like an hourglass coming out of our mouth.
The Q&A format, where the writer holds a conversation with himself, was inspired by Donald Barthelme's wonderful Q&A's from The New Yorker back in the sixties.