Friday, December 14


word·smith –noun
1. an expert in the use of words.
2. a person, as a journalist or novelist, whose vocation is writing.
[Origin: 1895–1900]

Actually I think the above definition might be too simple. In my opinion a wordsmith is a craftsman in the same way that a potter or cabinetmaker is. Much of the craft might be learned, but they have an innate talent that puts them several levels above the mere dabbler. Anyone can use words; but putting them together in such a way that the product inspires, amuses or intriques others is an artform.

I was thinking about this last night as I lay in bed unable to sleep. Usually if I can't sleep it is because I can't turn my mind off and a sometimes effective aid is to plug in my iPod and listen to an audiobook. If I can become lost in a story my mind will be sufficiently distracted to let go. It has to be something engaging, though, a story that pulls me into the author's make believe world. In this case it was Terry Pratchett's Going Postal that I turned to. I'm telling you, the man is an artist with words. I've read the hardcopy twice and am on my third listen and it never gets stale. He weaves elements together, puns and wordplays, cultural phenomena and current events, in such a way as to keep the reader in a constant state of anticipation. You just know there's something wonderful waiting around the turn of the page.

Take this line from Going Postal. In the story our reluctant hero needs help and turns to Miss Dearheart, his romantic interest and the only person who sees him for what he really is. She's a no-nonsense dame and exactly what Moist (yeah, that's the hero's name) needs. Her advice?

Get yourself a little bit closer to heaven. And then get down on your knees and pray. You know how to pray, don't you? You just put your hands together -- and hope.

Maybe it's just because I'm an old movie buff - that is, a fan of old movies, not an old fan of movies - but that line just tickles me every time I read it, or hear the narrator read it. Even without backstory and character description, you get an instant picture of Miss Dearheart. You know she's standing there arching an eyebrow and looking the hero straight in the eye as she delivers that line. You know it because the line is iconic. Lauren Bacall said it to Bogey in the 1944 movie To Have and Have Not. Actually what she said was, "You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and...blow." So Pratchett didn't invent the line, but he used it deftly, tailoring it to his character while preserving the flavor. It's just that bit different and yet that much more amusing for its famliarity.

I have favorite Pratchett books, and this is one of them. But every one that I have read has included a few gems in the way of word pictures and great dialogue. The man's a genius.


Mary needs a cooler name... said...

Hey McB, enlighten those of us who wander in silence... where do you download Pratchett into iPod audiobook?

jcspidk - sorry, had to clear my throat there. Been signing 'Happy Birthday' to too many people, if you know what I mean. I am an artiste, i.e. I am sensitive and have a throat that is equally sensitive, so this is the price you pay to listen to Great Art. That's my story, anyway.

McB said...

and a good story it is too.

You want Tons of audiobooks, articles and podcasts. I do the audio thing so much that I have a subscription but you can buy individually as well. And the guy reading Going Postal is absolutely perfect.

Scope Dope Cherrybomb said...

I still haven't read Pratchett yet but intend to. I agree with what you say about a wordsmith. Having been a 'journalist' I like words, have always liked words and like to know where they come from. Very interesting subject. ;-)

me said...

Wordherder. That's the word I've always used.

McB said...

wordherder? As in:

"get along little do·gie –noun Western U.S. a motherless calf in a cattle herd. Also, dogey, dogy."

LtL said...

Enjoyed the quote. Don't read Pratchett. Read Grafton. Like:
(Kinsey is working very late on her taxes.) "In about five minutes I'd be drooling on my desk blotter, with my right cheek picking up messages in reverse."