Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tintinnabulary

I looked this up (on my way to another word) in Webster's Eleventh but am checking it now in Webster's Tenth.

Tintinnabulary adj. [L. tintinnabulum bell] (1787) : of, relating to, or characterized by bells or their sounds.

I think of hand bells at Christmas, a dinner bell, a cow bell, and a clarine.

Unless living in the middle of "A Clockwork Orange," the sounds of bells seem to inhabit the opposite of what a clattering kind of environment must be. For instance, in a hostile environment (legalistic terminology), life must be, well, hostile.

When I picked up Lord of the Flies last night, it seemed to me that a litigator arguing a case about workplace violence or a hostile environment could mention that book quite handily in order to convince a jury that without rules people (at least the civilized ones) can behave rather savagely. (Sheepishly?) Of course, rules mean little at the end of a day. And anybody who thinks that surveillance keeps mean people in check is misguided in more ways than one (consider the panopticon).

Back to bells.

The fact is that simply being in the vicinity of precise language, being in the presence of people who speak with an economy of speech, for whom the word "Um" generally does not exist (unless spoken deliberately), who say "You guys" only to men and boys, and seldom "gonna" in lieu of "going to": this is a 21st century privilege (probably beyond words).

People who create tailor-made vocabularies for their own selves using hundreds of words that already exist and have existed perhaps for centuries must be the true inhabitants of the land of bells. I don't mean people who speak stilted perfect pretentious textbook English; I mean people who can mix it all up and have it come out ringing.

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