While I’ve been attempting to fulfil my Summer Reading Bingo Goal, I fear I may have run a bit off track. That is unless I can try and fit Virginia Woolf and Luce Irigaray into some of these categories? A confession: Up until this point I’ve only read Woolf’s essays, usually as a way of backing up my own literary criticism. She was a genius essayist and her wit is at times unparalleled. A Room of One’s Own has always comforted me with its winding style and vindicated me with its concise arguments. I once laughed out loud in class as I read her description of how she had to wrestle with and then murder the Angel of the Hearth in order to become a confident author (Victorian literary jokes just kill me). Then last summer I watched The Hours. I was staying with a friend in Vancouver and feeling a bit low so I began to search her alphabetically organized collection of DVDs for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Instead I skipped it over and decided to give Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep try. In hindsight, this was not the best decision; while I was in need of a light hearted musical romp, I got Woolf’s persisting mental illness and Clarissa Vaughan's AIDS stricken friend instead. I cried like a baby afterwards but carried away with me the resolution to read Woolf’s fiction.

The logical choice (and the option most likely to fill a bingo category) is Mrs. Galloway but I already had a partially finished copy of The Waves handy. It’s always satisfying to finish a book you started ages ago, right? Things have been proceeding quickly, though I can’t help but mark and underline all the words that I love as well as the words that I must look up. Woolf packs an impressive lexicon and I realize part of her appeal for me is her use of my favourite words, like ‘incandescent,’ ‘luminous,’ and ‘ephemeral.’

I don’t know how much time other people spend thinking about the words of their mother tongue. Certainly, I have come across many French words and names that I love: Île d’Or sounds like the most beautiful place in the world, and papillon has a music to it. I have other favourite words, some of which I forget about until they come up again in my reading. They have the power to comfort and soothe me. My favourites, not including the ones used by Woolf:

  • Diaphanous
  • Bless
  • Whisper
  • Melody
  • Benefice
  • Transcend
  • Effervescent

It isn’t even that these words have especially beautiful meanings or refer to pleasant things. It’s just that something in the arrangement of consonants and vowels, the rhythm or sibilance they produce, have a calming effect. Sometimes, when I’m feeling especially eccentric, I ask a friend or acquaintance to come up with their favourite words. It often surprises people a bit, but still they usually have a list buried somewhere in their subconscious, even if they’ve never given voice to it. Usually though, it is the words that bother or annoy people that come to their lips easiest. Mine include the following:

  • Treat
  • Chat
  • Glut
  • Frack

Perhaps it’s a strange way pass time, but I put a lot of stock in the power of words and I’m sure a few of you out there do too. The ability to communicate fantasies, needs, and dreams, to convey affection, even the soft monosyllables whispered or moaned during the height of passion; this is the nexus of language and the erotic. See, there I go turning a post about Virginia Woolf into something about sex — I don’t think she would disapprove though.

So what are your favourite words? What kind of language calms or excites you? I’m always interested in how other people feel about these things.

6 Comments