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Apples of Gold in a Setting of Silver

Note: This was posted at The Rabbit Room recently. So, you may have seen it there. Do not read it twice. It’s like seeing yourself in time-travel. –sam

Last night I wrote a fable. It’s fabulous. And by that I mean it’s a fable.

With me?

Words really mean things. I want to be some one whose appreciation of this fact fuels more intentional investigation on word origins.

I only have one book on my shelf that I can think of right now about word origins in English. That book is pretty amazing (now I’m thinking of what amazing history the word “amazing” might have), but I ought to have more. I almost have aught.

I remember hearing Ken Myers talking to some fellow about how he was grading a student paper where it was said that a boat had “arrived half-way across the ocean.” The fellow was objecting to this use because the word “arrive” has in it the notion of coming ashore. So one cannot arrive half-way. It means to get there. Specifically to “come to shore.”

So, at Hutchmoot (the Rabbit Room conference) this idea of the power and origin in the original power of words arrived on the sandy beach of my mind. Courtesy of Walter Wangerin, Jr.


Walt (I call him Walt, because I was close enough to yank his pony tail –but I didn’t, amazingly) was amazing. <—– I haven’t looked that up yet.

I felt a thousand things as he spoke, which I feel incapable of putting into adequate words. I feel like a clever monkey trying to explain to Beethoven (who is deaf and dead) the joys of flinging poo. I felt validated, inspired, full, hopeful, peaceful, joyful and the list goes on and on like a long, long list.

But here is one thing. Walt knows words.

He inhabits language like the oldest local. He speaks as one with authority, as if in his naming the thing may finally –again– be itself. It was not that words were used by him, or that he was commanding with them. I can aspire to that. It was more.

He cooperated with words. Co-operated. He and the words were on the same side. He has arrived on their side after a long, literate life’s journey.

His relation of the history of schap (forever on the chalkboard of my mind) was a significant life event for me. Because, in so many words, he told me who I am.

I am a schap. A shaper. This is how he talked about storytellers.

And words are the tools of my trade. I will use them, care for them, add more to my bag and hope that one day I will do more than use them. I will inhabit them. Know them like an intimate friend. Partner with them. Conjure up with them a vision for those without eyes to see. And tell stories.

Like Walt.


  1. Hey, SD–
    I’m a big fan of word origins my own self. I also think people sometimes make too much of word origins. In other words, I’m not convinced that what a word “used to” mean is necessarily what it “really” means. Or consider the word ‘holy.’ In English, ‘holy’ and ‘whole’ are related–a fact that I find important. But the word that is translated ‘holy’ from the Greek (or Hebrew? or both?) in the Bible has nothing to do with wholeness (that I know of…but I aint been to seminary).

    As for the word ‘amaze,’ its original meaning was essentially ‘to bewilder’–like you’re bewildered when you’re in a maze. Get it? True story.

  2. I think I would be okay seeing myself in the past (or the future?), as long as I don’t come into physical contact with myself. I guess it depends on which time-travel movie I take my time-travel rules from. Back to the Future/Prisoner of Azkaban rules, where past or future me would go insane at the sight of time-traveling me (no jokes please) or JJ Abram’s Star Trek rules, where future me could advise younger me.

    Either way, time-travel is risky business, so I shall not be reading this again. It’s not worth the risk to me in any time.

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