1 minute reading time (295 words)

STORY OF THE WORD

I've been thinking about spelling.

Some can spell well. Some can't. Nothing to do with being clever. All to do with brains and the way they process visual information.

I'm a good speller. But then, sets of letters form patterns to me, patterns I like and feel at home with. And part of that is connected with the way I love the story of the word -- where it came from, how it's made up -- which bits are prefix, which suffix, where the stem derives. And so on.

At school, when I started doing Latin at about the age of 14 (and I was never particularly good at it), it was a revelation to me. I suddenly realised where lots of words came from, how they came to mean what they mean. I've never got over it.

I think knowing the story of a word, or even part of its story, makes the whole business of writing it down different.

Think about spelling, and spell (magic) and a spell of time. How did one sound get to be so many things?

From one source or another, I get 'spell' from Old French espeller, of Germanic origin; related to Old Norse spialla to talk, Middle High German spellen. I like 'spialla', to talk. But also Old English 'spell' is speech. And Old Norse spjall is 'a tale', and all these words, though they have echoes in sound and form, came by different circuitous routes into this paragraph. It is a complicated and spell-binding story -- probably several stories.

Somehow, we make sounds -- and then visual patterns -- correspond with something we want to communicate, and that is language. It's amazing. A maze of amazement. In and out with no end to it .  . . .

THE BEAUTY OF RHYME
IN IT TO WIN IT: THE POETRY COMPETITION BUSINESS
 

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Sunday, 20 September 2020

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