Wendell Hixson, Writing Consultant
There is no need to be an “expert!” Far too many writers, readers, students, and scholars see writing as requiring the gravest of literary circumstances. Many believe that writing must possess grandiloquence, gravitas, gratitude, grammaticality, and—especially—graftiquilimentiploricissitudinousness (neologism; I trust you’ll look up everything in italics that you don’t know). However, the magical qualities of writing, of your voice lie not in some Ivory Tower, swirling in the minds of some rhetorical warlock or literary lich (alliteration), but at your very fingertips. The unhindered imagination can create entertaining and enjoyable examples of writing without a need for scholarly expertise.
As two francophone thinkers posited, “Literary history seems deliberately to ignore writing as practice, as work, as play” (Thomas and Motte 98). And they’re, frankly, dead on. I live by the mantra that one should have fun with their writing. Fun can be the driving farce (malapropism) behind the most successful research and prose, as fun is usually the best motivator. Sometimes the very essence of rewarding, valuable writing is held not in researched ideas, dense argumentation, or scholarly opinion. Sometimes the very essence of rewarding writing is just having a chuckle at a simple and silly play on words. And sometimes you may end up learning the difference between the endless devices and playful maneuvers found within the English language, and the unique devices within other languages as well.
Perhaps you’ll come across words like (and, yes, these are all real) lipogram, chiasmus, petrosomatoglyph, epizeuxis, bdelygmia, clerihew, butyraceous, syzygy, ekphrasis, bibliobibuli, zeugma, absquatulate, phantasmagoric, lugubriousness, floccinaucinihilipilification, hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, and jib. Perhaps you’ll even use them. This is the fun of language: the exploration and wonder of the gift we’ve so luckily evolved. It operates much like a magic, a power with which we can create meaning and reality out of nothingness. Most any sounds, amalgam of letters, and absurd or beautiful stories develop our very understanding of this powerful tool (e.g. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows or Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons). Language is a boundless, bottomless ocean that we are rarely encouraged to truly navigate. Language can be morphed into humorous contests, such as Monty Python’s Word Association Football or Rosencrantz & Guildenstern’s Questions Game (both of which I recommend watching). Language can be manipulated for the sake of art, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s extended vocabulary or Lewis Carroll’s fantastical prose (read “The Bells” and/or “Jabberwocky”). Language can be invented for the sake of worldbuilding, such as Star Trek’s Klingon or Tolkien’s Middle-earth (which inspired real world uses of these languages). Succinctly, it makes us feel. And that is a power that should be embraced, nurtured, protected, and proliferated.
Now, this is not to advocate for disregarding formal academic writing as a whole. This is not a call to challenge a professor for stifling your creativity. There is a time and a place for pure fun and freedom, and—really—a research paper, a dissertation, or a scientific journal are not always the most appropriate sites for Tolkien’s Elvish or the word “lugubrious.” That’s okay. It can be symbiotic. We language-users still have an obligation and an ability to balance our teaching and communication with our capacity to entertain. Sometimes that means foregoing a pun or poetry (wordplay), but it doesn’t mean foregoing interest in your ideas and how you write them (rhetorical devices). Our world can be a worrisome place that requires our attention, compassion, and power whenever we can lend it. And, hopefully, we can use our voices to mend relationships, to empower those we care about, to stand against and maybe inspire those who feel silenced. To use your voice for good is all one can ask. So, I truly wish that your ongoing adventure through language brings you a greater sense of confidence in yourself, and I hope it also brings an appreciation for how genuinely, innately powerful our voices really are. And that doesn’t mean it’ll ever be perfect. As I said, you don’t need to be an “expert.” You just have to be human.
Thomas, Jean-Jacques and Warren F. Motte join. “Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature.” South Atlantic Review 53 (1988): 185.