In college, an Econ prof started class by reading from Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner’s whimsical, penetrating lexicon that has been a companion since. Buechner’s definitions of Faith, Sin, Spirit, Compassion, and many more have enlivened sermons and deepened understanding. They’ve sparked guffaws rather often, too. A book like this slows one down long enough to pay attention to what fills sentences and paragraphs, the way walking down a lane reveals wonders unseen by speeding motorists.
Since bumping into Buechner like that, I’ve been keeping a file of words that intrigue me. I’m also drawn to writers who are knocked out by words, too. Like Peggy Noonan, who commended word-geeks as she talked about speech- (and other kinds of) writing. Or Annie Dillard, in basically everything she puts her hand to. Annie Proulx? Try and get through a few pages without consulting Webster. Wallace Stegner makes writing look easy because his word-wrangling is so effortless. And I just finished Neal Stephenson’s Reamde (big enough to be a boat anchor), which I thought would be a lark, since his novel is billed as crime fiction. But it’s actually more like a dictionary with a really good plot.
I check that file from time to time. Some of these words are puzzles, others are dense, most evoke wider worlds–and I’m thinking a few of them ought to show up on this blog….