Hometown Talk

No one can say how our town picked up this vocabulary. Certainly we have spoken it for as long as people have lived here. It presses lightly against the teeth, easily slips free of our eager tongues. At the same time, it is rich to the point of bewilderment. A thousand words can each mean something very different about the wind. This opens worlds no one wanted opened. And the meaning of many of the most common words is circular, often rooted in old and half-forgotten usages, but with fresh misunderstandings. Like that game called Telephone with the same sentence whispered from one person to the next, changing into something else with each new breath. As children, it made us laugh to hear the words and meaning run away from us. Of course, many are now truly confused or emotionally wounded by this reckless lexicon, and real tragedies happen: a train wreck, the fall of a person from a window, someone’s mother gasping for breath in the wrong hospital. There have been attempts to compile and organize, to teach the phrasing systematically in our schools, to, in general, parse things down a bit. But it has become clear this language of ours has found its own purpose: to slowly crowd us out, leaving only our dangerous buildings and impossible traffic signs. We hoped perhaps once the older ones had died, the ones who spent entire days of their lives formulating how to say even the most trivial things, we would slowly forget. But no one forgets anything. Only some of the spellings change, and for no apparent reason. I have a closet stacked with the only completed volumes from our Community Dictionary Project: massive, doomed, the depressing smell of old paper. Was there ever going to be a way to write it all down, to define it, to agree on one way to pronounce even a single adverb? And our mouths run on without ceasing.

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