May I have a word with you?

Location: Davidson, North Carolina

Poets and writers have a deep understanding of Mark Twain’s famous quote, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
But sometimes we have to make do with the language that we have available.

I am currently at a conference on the Maya listening to academics. Here many of the speakers use a language appropriate for their fellow professors, graduate students, and specialists, using such words as, phenomenological, and sociopolitical. Where I feel weirdly taken back in time to my grad student days four decades ago. Then words like lexicographical, where I am as baffled as anyone else and try to figure out the meaning by by inference and context. Then I had to look up the word nescience, and was sorry I did.

As the owner and host of an inn for world travelers.  I often end up communicating with people who have limited English. Here my extensive vocabulary can be a handicap. If the people I am talking to cannot understand the “right word,” then it is really not the right word at all.

When I am with the guests, I open my mouth and begin speaking as my brain forms a collection of words to give my thoughts and stories a voice. But, as I am speaking the first sentence, I realize that a word I want to use in the next sentence is not likely to be understood. Here my brain searches my vocabulary list for an appropriate alternative, meanwhile making eye contact with my listeners, keeping a conversational tone, and trying to look like I know what I am talking about.

I feel much like the proverbial intelligent millipede, who fears that if he pays too much attention to any one leg, he is likely to misstep and stumble over his own feet. Somehow I manage to finish the story and smile, hoping that my listeners have no idea of the convolutions my brain goes through to tell a simple tale. Nescience? Hah!