I can still remember the almost tangible click in my head during my Latin I class freshman year in high school when I discovered that the word “peninsula” was derived from the word “paene,” meaning “almost,” and “insula,” meaning “island.” Almost an island…. Aha! That was for me an epiphanic moment, a revelation: that words might have not only a history but a logic connected to that history: a life of their own. I became a devotee of derivations. Now, close to fifty years later, I’m still fooling around with words: this being, in the hundred-words series, the penultimate post.
Process Reflection: I suppose that it’s somehow inevitable that as I got to thinking about this next-to-last post the word “penultimate” would shake itself off its lexicographical shelf and fall into the atrium of my brain. I started tonight’s post by writing about that word, but in so doing was overtaken by the memory of my encounter with its cognate cousin in my Latin I class, and wound up restructuring the piece around that memory in such a way as to lead up to the word of the day.
What’s been most consistently interesting to me about this nearly-completed enterprise is the way the very small canvas encourages, even necessitates, a close attention to the details, the architecture of the evolving sequence of words. I do not mean to suggest that these posts have in fact represented any transcendent or even intermediary accomplishment in terms of structural aesthetics, but they have helped to focus my attention as a writer on what exactly it is that I am doing, how I am doing it, and how else it might be attempted. Often, when I am drafting longer and less focused pieces, writing becomes for me much more automatic and intuitive and profluent; this set of writings has been, for better or worse, much more deliberate and painstaking at the word and sentence level.
I’ve also noticed by the strength of what might be called, to add two more Latin derivatives to the many already swimming about above, the autobiographical imperative: that here as elsewhere even in attempting to write analysis I wind up, as if by accident, writing my life. (Which leads us, or might lead us, into another thicket: objectivity and subjectivity. A longer post for another time.)