That One Word

Today is day 8 of the 2-week writing challenge. I think we could all use an SCP-break. 

Today, I'd like to muse on the topic of language; specifically, the idea of a single word or short phrase that could, theoretically, mean everything. (Be warned, readers, this artsy, philosophical sh*t isn't for everyone. I won't be offended if you duck out now). 

Words and language have taken every kind of unknown form, and people keep expanding on the set. Generally, though, language serves two purposes. It lets people communicate: 

1. general things.

2. specific things.

For the most part, animals and our earliest ancestors did just fine communicating general things with noises, not language. Language helped people evolve because we got better at communicating shades of meaning. Truth-telling and spreading false information, revealing some information while hiding the rest, delving into the nitty gritty of a technical report or analysis of a novel or hues of a sunset -- all of these advancements and tools came about as we humans surged toward specific meaning. 

Even those people who prefer the wide, swathed mop of the universe over a fine detail brush's rendering have preferences. Particular habits. Many of us have a favorite brand of canned beans. 

Why do we like those beans better than others? Why is this basketball game better than the three early-season duds? Language lets us elucidate those preferences, find other people who share them, and talk about them. A bunch of other stuff happens along the way, but the crux of language's sweet spot lies in that story, again and again. 

Image result for art and language changing

Yet-- art is always changing, as is language. I like the idea of a finding or making a word that thinks big. Bloated. A word over-saturated and pressurized out the wazoo. A word so chocked full of meaning and weight and gravitas and depth and every soul-crushing and powerful and generous and heartening thing you and everyone like and dislike you has and will ever know. 

I want a big word. I also want to consider what we turn over in the mind, what language does without and within us, that 'big' becomes 'large' becomes 'huge' becomes 'monstrous' becomes 'gargantuan' becomes 'hopelessly enormous' and we sense the change in size. I don't think we can make the biggest, whole-est word until we ponder on that just a little. I do think there are some obvious things sticking out about that progression, though, in regards to the words we see on the page and read in our heads.

1. the bigger the term, in general, the more letters in the word (3, 5, 4, 9, 10, and 18, or 19 if you count the space character). Therefore, too, they take up more space on the page. 

2. the bigger terms have more syllables and 'heavy' vowels like the 'u' in "huge". Thus, they take longer to say.

3. the bigger terms use vowels that open the mouth up more (ie: 'ih' in "big" vs. 'hoe' and 'ee-noh' in"hopelessly enormous').

Image result for big large huge words

The last thing I want to note in this sequence of words, as we consider what it takes to be a word that encompasses everything, is the contextual weight of each one given where each of these words takes its meaning. Let's list them out again here for ease of reference. 

1. 'big' 

2. 'large' 

3. 'huge' 

4. 'monstrous' 

5. 'gargantuan' 

6. 'hopelessly enormous.'

1. 'big' is a common word, something we could say quickly to communicate ourselves clearly and simply

3. 'huge, coming from the Old French ahuge, represents size by measurement and addition. Not only is the word saying it's big, but it's big + X amount. 

4. 'monstrous' is the first of the words that turns visual, visceral. We know what monsters are, as well as their size.

5. 'gargantuan' takes the body of 'monster' and narrows it to a head. It's the name of a "voracious giant in Rabelais' book of the same name" from the year 1534. This bit of complex culture, beyond the simple culture of our collective nightmares and passed down for 500 years, makes the bigger word more tangible and gives it history.

6. If 'monstrous' drew power from childhood fear and 'gargantuan' from myth and legend, 'hopelessly enormous' does so by touching our existentialism. 'Enormous' is a letter-and-syllable-count cousin of "monstrous" and an etymological cousin of "huge." In other words, quantifiable and approaching specificity. But in this phrase 'enormous' is merely the base for the celebrated wedding cake of "hopelessly." This is the word that holds the deepest weight. 

The concept of 'hope' and what it means to people is more than myth and ghost story. It's one of the more real conceits on which humans string their everyday fortune. I like to think the dream is more powerful than the nightmare. 

Something big enough to take hope away, then -- to bring on hopelessness by its enormity -- is of a size hard to pin down, but a size that still manages to communicate the most important detail. However big the thing is, it will inspire hopelessness. No person approaching it could hope to overcome it, to deal with its hugeness. It's just that large. There's no hope for the thing, no way for people to shape it to our own purpose. Bigness, then -- the conceptual size of a word (even if we haven't yet approached the entire concept of "everything-ness", as intended at the start of our exercise) -- bigness is dependant on how malleable and conquerable a thing is by a human being. Or, collectively, by humanity.  

The exercise of a word that means "everything," consequently, might prove problematic. If the point of the word is to encompass all, that might make it too unwieldy to form in the first place. Too much disorder to be orderly.

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One last note on 'bigness' in the English language. Communicating "bigness," its progression from simple, clear speech to terms weighty through cultural significance, seems intrinsically linked to specificity. 

If this holds true, is a word that means everything, that takes on the weight of all human meaning, more general or more specific?


Hard to say. 

Maybe both?


 Image result for happy evenly weighted scales of justice

That about wraps up my thoughts for the day. Go spread the word -- peace, til tomorrow.