In one of my favorite books ever, author Junot Díaz writes the brilliant sentence, “The day was the color of pigeons.” The color of pigeons. I can read that over and over, and love it a little more every time. It’s such a wonderful descriptor. It’s more than just grey, you see. It’s a mood, a meaning, all of it – pigeons.
Sometimes I find myself at a loss for words. Not because I’m shocked or incapable of deciding how I should react to a situation, but because as a wannabe writer I am very picky about words. I want them to be perfect. I want people to read my combinations of letters and phrases and go, “Whoa. Yeah. Pigeons.” (Or whatever I happen to someday write that is on the same brilliant plane as a day the color of pigeons.)
It’s scary to try to phrase something perfectly. I often think that whatever I want to say will have been said already, and probably in better words. One of my favorite poets, Anis Mojgani, describes love as “like honey and trombones.” It’s such a beautiful phrase, and it means so much with so little explanation. I worry I will never match this.
But that’s the beauty of creativity. These phrases are so new, fresh, and personal – honey and trombones. The day the color of pigeons. They are wildly unique to the mind of the creator, the writer. But I understand it, and feel it in my own way.
There is a whole subculture of words that are just words smashed together. Like the word “turducken.” The inventor sat there, thinking about this new meat hybrid they created, and thought: I can’t just call this turkey-duck-chicken. No no. I gotta give it a name. And thus, the portmanteau word “turducken” was born out of one person’s brain.
portmanteau - a new word formed by joining two others and combining their meanings; “`smog’ is a blend of `smoke’ and `fog’”; “`motel’ is a portmanteau word made by combining `motor’ and `hotel’”; “`brunch’ is a well-known portmanteau” (source)
Like smog. Smog is just a word-mashup too, but it feels so right – I can feel the smog in my lungs and dimming up my vision as I say it. That’s how you know you have a good portmanteau; you can feel the meaning of the word in the word.
At some point between turducken and sexting, I realize the world changes every second it spins. Meanings change. Words take on new connotations. There is always room for another attempt at getting words into a perfect, beautiful order. Smash them together – make them mean something new. Feeling nostalgic and happy at the same time? Sounds like you’re joystalgic to me. Sleepy and hungry? Hunpy. No, slungry.
What I’m saying is: screw language purism. Shakespeare invented the word “swagger.” Dr. Seuss came up with “nerd.” And both of them are such great inventions that we ate them up, made them part of our world. So make up words. Verb nouns. Noun verbs! Talk about how Thursdays make you feel like the color yellow. Turn your conversation into free verse. Let your creativity breathe free off the tip of your tongue.