18 August 2011

A New Word

I have been trying to coin a word. Starting from satyagraha, or commitment to truth, which was coined by Gandhi to describe his 'philosophical school', I am proposing the word avidyagraha. Like satyagraha this is a portmanteau, combining the Sanskrit avidya ('ignorance') and agraha ('insistence'). It would be defined as either the act of closing your eyes, putting your fingers in your ears, and going 'lalalalalala!', or the mental equivalent thereof. I've long wanted a word for that.

New words are problematic. Knut Hamson has much to say about this in his novel Hunger:
All at once I snapped my fingers a couple of times and laughed. Hellfire and damnation! I suddenly imagined I had discovered a new word! I sat up in bed, and said: It is not in the language, I have discovered it – Kuboaa. It has letters just like a real word, by sweet Jesus, man, you have discovered a word!... Kuboaa… of tremendous linguistic significance.

The word stood out clearly in front of me in the dark.

I sat with wide eyes astonished at my discovery, laughing with joy. Then I fell to whispering: they could very well be spying on me, and I must act so as to keep my invention secret. I had arrived at the joyful insanity hunger was: I was empty and free of pain, and my thoughts no longer had any check. I debated everything silently with myself. My thoughts took amazing leaps as I tried to establish the meaning of my new word. It needn’t mean either God or the Tivoli Gardens, and who had said it had to mean cattle show? I clenched my fists hard and repeated again: Who said it had to mean cattle show? When I thought it over, it was in fact not even necessary that it mean padlock or sunrise. In a word like that it was very easy to find meaning. I would just wait and see. In the meantime, I would sleep on it.

I lay back on the cot and chuckled, but said nothing, did not commit myself either for or against. Some time went by and I remained excited, the new word plagued me incessantly, kept on returning, finally took control of my thoughts entirely and made me sober down. I had formulated my opinion on what the word did not mean, but I had not yet come to a decision on what it did mean. ‘That is a secondary matter!’ I said aloud to myself, and grabbed myself by the arm and repeated that it was a secondary matter. The word, thanks to God, has been discovered and that was the main thing. But thoughts pestered me constantly and kept me from falling asleep: nothing seemed to me good enough for this remarkable word. Finally I sat up a second time in bed, took my head between both hands, and said, ‘No, no, that is exactly what is impossible – letting it mean emigration or tobacco factory! If it could have meant something like that, I would have made the decision a long time ago and taken the consequences.’ No, the word was actually intended to mean something spiritual, a feeling, a state of mind – if I could only understand it? And I thought and thought to find something spiritual. It occurred to me that someone was talking, butting into my chat, and I answered angrily: ‘I beg your pardon? For an idiot, you are all alone in the field! Yarn? Go to hell!’ Why should I be obligated to let it mean yarn when I had a special aversion to its meaning yarn? I had discovered the word myself, and I was perfectly within my rights to let it mean whatever I wanted it to, for that matter. So far as I knew, I had not yet committed myself….


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