A good example of leveraging the historical baggage of a word

OK, so when you see something amazing are you “astonished”? “wowed”? Did your “jaw drop”? They all mean the same thing right? Or close at least. Well, no, if I’ve learned anything from reading Owen Barfield, it’s how much history is packed into a word. And YOU are aware of that history, even at a subconsious level sometimes. This is the sort of thing that can make the difference between good and bad poetry (and prose too), but it’s hard to put your finger on half the time.

Here, while mentioning the made-up words that James Joyce often employed, Sayer’s give a nice illustration of this:

The [James Joyce] apologist continues: “Some of Joyce’s neologisms need no elucidation. . . . A word like “thonthorstrok” carries more literary suggestions, combining as it does the idea of thunderbolt, stroke of lightning and Thor, the Hammerer, the Norse God of thunder.”

Well, so it does: but no more than the word “thunderstroke” carries in itself, and in fact considerably less, since the neologism limits the associations to those to which its eccentricity draws conscious attention, whereas “thunderstroke” calls up to the subliminal memory not only the associations “thunder”, “lightning”, and “Thor”, but also every verbal and visual image accrued to it through many centuries, from Jupiter Tonans to the cannon in the Valley of Death, from Job and the Psalms to the, two Boanerges and the apocalyptic thunderings that proceeded out of the Throne. In the intellectual pastime of dissecting out “thonthorstrok” we become actively alert and thus impervious to subconscious suggestion; so that in our astonishment we are scarcely even receptive to our own kinship with Robinson Crusoe, who, beholding a like unprecedented phenomenon, “stood like one thunderstruck, or as if I had seen an apparition”.

-Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Ch.10

Interesting. In light of that, I don’t know if I’ve ever been “thunderstruck” by anything.

I’m curious if I can try to dig up some associations from the words I mentioned at the beginning of this post:

Wowed – calls to mind the actual verbal “wow” sound. Also, a sense of looking up, like at fireworks, or down at something big, like the Grand Canyon.

Astonished – this word is more cerebral. The thing that has grabbed your attention has done so not because it is just big or bright, but actually makes your brain work a lot with no conclusions. When Kobe Briant makes a slick slam dunk, you may be wowed, but not astonished. When that high-schooler does the same thing, THEN your astonished. When your neighbor’s dog does it, then your thunderstruck.

When you listen to ACDC, your thunderstruck. Either that, or your bored.

OK. This is getting way off topic. Goodnight!