If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Tuesday 4 December 2012
Read gnomica 1-200 here!
Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!
Audrey Hepburn (4 May 1929 – 20 Jan 1993)
There is nothing like a really clever observation about language to warm the clever cockles of one’s yearning heart – and graceful, gorgeous, gamine Audrey did it with this one! You remember her, don’t you? I always thought she was style and class personified! And every movie of hers I ever saw enchanted me, especially her rôle (1961) as Holly Golightly in the eponymous film Breakfast at Tiffany’s based on Truman Capote’s novel (1958). To think that in addition to being so engaging an actress this multilingual Belgian beauty was so clever with words, too!
I suppose one might think of her analysis above as a kind of steganography.
Back in the day when we would go somewhere with the kids in the car we would play a ‘word-chunking’ game, which entailed seeing who was the first one who could pick out a word or words from within a sign. For example, a MacDonald’s sign would yield MacDonald’s and MacDonald’s and MacDonald’s; a ‘speed zone’ sign would yield ‘speed zone’ (much laughter!) and ‘speed zone’ and ‘speed zone’ and ‘speed zone’; and Sears sign would yield Sears and Sears and Sears and Sears. Sometimes the game would be to ‘chunk backwards’ — here the letters from right to left had to make a word: thus, ‘Burger King’ hid only ‘grub’ and ‘rub’; ‘Iowa City limits’ hid ‘Tim’ (punctuation and spacing were to be ignored, and upper and lower case were equivalents) and ‘Iowa City limits’ hid ‘I’m’ [as in Audrey’s word!] and ‘aw’ (debated, but approved!) and ‘I’; ‘no turn on red’ hid ‘ern’ [my contribution] and ‘on’ and ‘rut’ and ‘ton’. The most difficult, and most interesting was the game we called, for obvious reasons, ‘anagram chunking’ – any jumble of the letters: thus, ‘fire station’ produced ‘rife, sire, stat [medical programs on TV, you know!], treat, son, rent, ones, fat, rant, tear, freed, star, not, it, taste, tit (more laughter!), tar, reason …’ and on and on.
And you know what?
Even to this day I play that game by myself on occasion, for example while waiting in the dentist’s office, on a plane trip, just walking around downtown – and doing so always reminds me nostalgically of when the kids were still kids and what I believe was the genuine fun that the three of them and mom and dad all had enjoying together that very cheap, device-less, pre-digital form of highly gratifying entertainment!
As for the epigraph above, that kind of meaning-loaded deconstruction of letters within a word or a phrase can of course be very difficult, and in my view this particular one merits much kudos on several grounds: it’s a transformation that is as straightforwardly simple and obvious as it is ingenious, and it’s a transformation that inverts the sense of the original – a clever way of repeating “nothing is impossible” if you’re just clever enough. It’s an example of what I think of as ‘ludic language’, language functioning over and beyond its strictly denotative, communicative task and suggesting something of the sheer fun of language. Granted, it may not be for everyone, but it’s harmless fun and it does exercise the little grey cells, however modestly.
Exercising the latter, for example, how many words do you think lurk sequentially forward, sequentially backward, and jumbled within ‘steganography’? You might be rather surprised – enter the word in the box here and see!
Try ‘chunking’ some word or phrase next time you’re stuck in city traffic or in some bureaucracy’s crowded line creeping at a sluggish crawl towards an uncaring clerk – it’ll probably serve you better than just fuming!
And it really is kind of fun.