Sunday, 20 January 2008

Favourite words and phrases

Put down the pen, pushed back the keyboard and enjoyed a brief holiday from writing (redrafting novel two, working through a short story, blogging, etc) whilst travelling to Perth and exploring south-west Western Australia recently. But nothing is ever wasted, because such experiences inevitably end up shaping or informing or serving as a backdrop in future projects, to some extent at least. There may be a scene or a smell or a relationship observed or a choice of phrase overheard---it all gets processed in the Factory of the Imagination.

Afremantle_prison_2 Had intended posting a photoblog (or is that a phlog?) with a few choice shots of this magnificent area, but our camera became seriously ill the day before we left, whilst I was crazily snapping away at a friend’s wedding of all things (now recorded through a grainy, pink filter), so I only have a few decent pics. Make that terminally ill. The camera is terminally ill. It has good moments of course, when it’s hard to detect that there’s much wrong with it, but on the Abaobab_drawing_2whole things aren’t looking too good. Literally. It’s on its way out. And perhaps this isn’t too bad in itself, because it’s too easy to replace the patina of memory with a thousand digital images and to end up experiencing life, second-hand, or vicariously, through the lens of a camera.

Went on a guided tour of Fremantle prison (c/o Jim, ex-prison officer), which was in use from 1855-1991, with few modifications. A grim place, Aflame_tree_with_matches_2but plenty of images greedily processed and stored down at the Factory. Was delighted to see young baobab trees in Perth, which looked pretty much as if they’ve been drawn by a child, and which reminded me of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (although he treated them a tad unfairly perhaps). And saw flame trees too, and a forest of tingle trees, and some pretty warm sea, and where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean, and visited Cape Mentelle vineyard in Margaret River (which we drank a portion of).


This brings me to the cellar door and the subject of favourite words and phrases (a round trip of about 5,400 kilometres).

In the film Donnie Darko (written and directed by Richard Kelly, 2001), the character of Karen Pomeroy (played by Drew Barrymore) says: ‘This famous linguist once said that of all the phrases in the English language, of all the endless combinations of words in all of history, that Cellar Door is the most beautiful.’ The famous linguist in question appears to be J.R.R.Tolkien, and his preference for the phrase has become well known largely because Donnie Darko has acquired cult film status. Discussions of the phrase are well documented.

Cellar door. Hmm, it does have a beautiful fluency to it.

C’est la vie works for me in a similar way, and I sometimes wonder if this is a secondary reason why the artist Marcel Duchamp used it as the surname for his alter-ego Rose Sélavy---other than the value of the word play (Eros That’s life = Love is life).

However, one of my favourite words, not only because of the way it sounds, but because of the way it looks when written is syzygy. It seems such an unlikely word with that close collection of tails, but snaps away from the front of the tongue and the lips like a piece of brittle toffee. I like the meaning it carries too:

  1. (Astron.) conjunction or opposition, esp. of moon with sun.
  2. Pair of connected or correlated things (as in yoked or paired).

Reference: The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary

So, in the absence of having an album of a thousand photos to put together, I thought I’d collect some favourite words and phrases instead. If you have a mind to, send me your own favourites, with the reason why they’re special and, if I receive enough, I'd like to list them in a future post.

To finish, and given the mention of Donnie Darko, thought I’d post the trailer for it, in case you too like films that are little off-beat and feel inclined to view it.

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