Monday, February 7, 2011

Necessary vs. Comfortable

Thumbnail background: The English language, being an amalgamated language such as it is,  has a remarkable quality of sounding out the meanings of its words.  If the sound fits, it works as a word. (I know this isn't news to my actor/writer friends, so I hope you'll forgive me in my gross over-simplification.) Cold sounds, well, cold. The sound contracts as the mouth closes around it, just like a blanket wraps around you to keep out the chill. Hot, likewise, sounds hot. It's expansive, breathy, and sizzles a little at the end.  The fewer syllables a word has, the closer it is to the primal need to communicate, thus the more cleanly do the sounds in the word express its meaning.  The more syllables it has, the more of a mental/social construct it expresses. Refrigerator is made up of various component parts to indicate meaning. 

I'm thinking about that aspect of language this morning because I'm in the position of having to take action that is necessary, but about which I am not at all comfortable. And I noticed that those two words are just about as far apart phonically as they can be.  They share only two letters--c and e--but even then, not a single sound between 'em.  Comfort has softness and nurturing sounds all through it.  Say it slowly, languidly, and you may notice it. Necessary, on the other hand, is full of harsh, gallopping s's and flat, open vowels.  The word practically demands to be spit out of the mouth as a rebuke. It's as if it's built in to the very sounds of the words themselves:  What's necessary is often not what's comfortable.

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