Protagonists and Logophiles
I am a bibliophile. Most of you reading this blog about books are probably bibliophiles as well, because a bibliophile is a lover of books.
But I am also a logophile. Not only do I love the collection of sentences and paragraphs and chapters that we call a book, but I’m also in love with the building blocks of books—the words themselves. I especially love “-phobia” words. I suffer from acrophobia, arachnophobia, bathophobia, claustrophobia, cremnophobia, and trypanophobia. I also used to have herpetophobia, but my sons cured me of that. And I obviously don’t have sesquipedalophobia—which is the fear of long words.
When I was student teaching in Rock City, Iowa, I found that children are natural logophiles. During study time, one of my second graders, Scott, finished his work and asked if he could join his friend at one of the learning centers. I gave him permission, but told him that they had to use “a minimum of noise.” Scott readily agreed and headed toward the center, then stopped and walked back to my desk. “What’s a ‘minimum’?” he asked.
That was the beginning of our “Big Word of the Day.” The first one, of course, was minimum, followed by maximum and bivouac and surreptitious. The students loved it. And I continued the lessons when I had my own classroom. And when I had my own boys and my own daycare, I never shied away from using big words.
I’ve recently read three books with young protagonists who found words to be very important.
Gabby is a daydreamer, and daydreaming was a life-saver during her parents’ fights. Now her parents are separated and she attends a new school—where her new teacher daily scolds her for drifting off in the middle of class. But how can she pay attention when some words have wings “that wake my daydreams. / They fly in, / silent as sunrise / tickle my imagination, / and carry my thoughts away. / I can’t help / but buckle up / for the ride!” As much as she tries, these kinds of words draw her away to good times and beautiful worlds. Can she ever make her teacher and her mother understand?
Ten years ago, Sarah’s mother did a terrible deed, a deed that ended up with the death of Sarah’s twin brother and her mother’s institutionalization. Since then, she and her father have moved repeatedly to keep away from gossip. Sarah has a journal where she keeps “trouble words”—words that are taboo because using them will get her in trouble with her father. This summer, as she writes letters to her hero, Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, she determines to come to terms with their Big Secret—and her mother.
Cuba was an island of slaves, and no one was allowed to speak out against slavery. Thirteen-year-old Tula loved words and reading, but after the death of her father, her mother and stepfather locked the books away, forbidding her to read and write. In a year she will be old enough to get married, and men do not want women who can read. They want “quiet females who listen, / not loud ones who offer / opinions.” Now Tula is “just a silenced girl… / Will my words always be / glowing coals / instead of leaping / flames?” When she discovers the banned books of an abolitionist poet, she sees how he uses metaphor to condemn the injustices in Cuba—and finds her own voice.
Today my favorite word is surfeit, as in, We have had a surfeit of snow and cold this winter. What is your favorite word?