Monday, 30 December 2013

Finding the right worm - Misquotes, Malapropisms and Meaning

"Every time the doorbell rang the dog started baking".
Copyright Graham Rawle 1991

"I can't find the right worm!", was once said to me by a frustrated five year old who was struggling to convey an emotional response in writing. That one misplaced consonant created such a vivid picture, perfectly suggestive of the effort it often takes to find precision in language.

Recently, when Desmond Tutu asked "to hear a pin drop" it was pointed out that what we actually hear is the pin land. We all knew what he meant so does it matter? I think it absolutely does when our desire is to untangle the complexity of emotion and express it so that we are more fully and deeply understood. In these situations asking ourselves, or having others ask of us, pertinent, searching questions can be essentiallly helpful in finding precision. I doubt that Tutu would have appreciated being quizzed as to whether he meant hear the pin fall or drop. Sometimes it's fun to let the imagination work with the imprecisions, the misquotes and the Malapropisms.

When I first met my partner, one of her sayings was "the world's your lobster". Imagine the different world that would be to having it as your oyster! And so too with Mrs Malaprop's "he is the very pineapple (pinnacle) of politeness".

Graham Rawle's "Lost Consonants" appeared in The Guardian from 1990 until 2005. He cleverly used the interplay of text and image, removing one important consonant to create his comic collages. I especially like the example above, living as I do, with a dog who barks whenever anyone comes to the door. It allows me flights of fancy - what would she bake? Would she wear an apron and use oven gloves? Beyond this, I think what it would be like to perceive that ringing doorbell or knock on the door as one filled with positive possibility - maybe guests are arriving in need of pastries.

The Door
by Miroslav Holub

Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there's
a tree or a wood,
a garden,or a magic city.
Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog's rummaging.
Maye you'll see a face,
or an eye,
or the picture
of a picture.
Go and open the door.
If there's a fog
it will clear.
Go and open the door.
Even if there's only
the darkness ticking.
Even if there's only
the hollow wind,
even if
is there,
go and open the door.
At least
there'll be
a draught.

Back to the frustrated five year old.
"Then just tell me about it", I responded.
And she did with perfect fluency.

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