2019: Found Words

Art Appreciation was the class I was least interested in teaching when I first took on college art instruction in the fall of 1988, but as luck would have it was the class I taught most often and eventually my favorite subject to teach. Looking back it should have been no surprise as the course combined two of my academic loves (history and art) but I also enjoyed it for all the new information I picked up on technique and philosophy.

One concept especially interesting to me was the use of found objects – everyday consumer goods, packaging and cast-off items – in work by creators such as proto-Pop artist Joseph C. Cornel. I adapted a modified version of this idea in my own work by recreating combinations of everyday objects from wood, paper and resin and the general idea continues in my work to this day, but since I am more prone now to word-crunching than paint-sloshing I look for found words instead of found objects to use in artistic expression.

Many of these found words I’ve borrowed from foreign languages. While my two sons have been blessed with the gift of tongues, my own foray into linguistics has been tentative at best. I started with German in fifth grade after listening to Wehrmacht troops growl their Teutonic lines on Combat!  and college entrance requirements herded me into Spanish and Spanish II classes in high school. In 1974 my pride earned me a borderline B- in a university Japanese class but for the most part my use of other languages was an occasional word or phrase that added emphasis or humor when needed.

As a teenager and young adult most of those individual words were swear words, and not surprisingly many of them were bogus words that someone had invented1 then passed off as part of another culture’s lexicon. However in the last few years through the debatable miracle of FaceBook I have learned a couple of colorful terms so useful that if not actually part of another language should be declared to be so.

One is kintsukuroi,  a Japanese term that translates as “to repair with gold” and refers to the art or repairing pottery with precious metals with the understanding that the piece is more beautiful for being broken and repaired.  Growing up on a frontier meant using things until they wore out and fixing them when they broke and that mindset has stayed with me throughout my life. When we were first married My Beautiful Saxon Princess could never understand why I prized my patched Levi 501’s over my $502 designer Hash jeans with the star embroidered on the butt pocket. It wasn’t until we went through lean times of our own that she began to understand the concept when she saw how I treasured the cut-off jeans I wore every summer in the late 1990s, shorts that I wore not for comfort but for economy  when I took the money I would have otherwise spent on new trousers and used it in getting our sons launched in life.

Hiraeth is a term I’ve just recently discovered and as I understand it comes from the Welsh or one of the other Celtic tongues. It refers to homesickness for a place that you cannot return to, a place that no longer exists or perhaps never was. As we cope with a heat wave that is excessive even for Tennessee while our current society  warps more and more into a condition that I struggle to understand, this word comes to mind quite often, and I long for a place and time that is much cooler in both temperature and temperament.

As for crapulent; yes it is an English word, but is has a Latin root so I include it with my list of found words. I first heard it years ago on a Simpsons episode and while technically it refers to physical suffering from excessive eating or drinking it’s much too useful in describing a general dissatisfaction with daily life – when I wake up to find the last bit of milk left for my Trix has gone sour, my shoelace breaks when tying my shoes and there is a tax audit notice in the mail nothing describes my situation better than to say I’m having a perfectly crapulent day.

Unfortunately one found word that I wish I could un-find is cultural appropriation, a term used in a pejorative manner when referring to the use of words of items normally associated with another group, as in “only a Japanese person should wear a kimono”  or “only a Native American should do voice-over work for an animated Comanche warrior.” While I understand the importance for respect for all cultures I came of an age when more effort was put into being inclusive  rather than divisive – if certain current social trends continue I wonder if there will come a day when I’m judged too melatonin-deficient to love old school R& B or in possession of one too many Y chromosomes to be a true Joni Mitchell fan.

Whatever.

Until that day comes I will continue to borrow and tailor words from all sources to better communicate with and sometimes bring a smile to those around me.

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Notes:

  1. When I was in fifth grade I was convinced that my sister Robin had invented the word “barf” while my best friend Mark was convinced his older brother had coined the word.

 

  1. …which was serious money in 1977

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