The Beauty of English
By Z Zoccolante
Pardon my absence; I’ve been on adventures. Physically I returned, but not quite mentally yet. As my dog and I meander to the grassy knoll I watch the world around me with a sliver of detachment, as my mind is full of mountains of houses stretching to the ocean, tiny cobblestone streets, and different languages in my ears.
I adore words and believe that they are magic. They have the power to destroy or to heal. They are a sword we can wield, a potion of charms, a gentle warmth around hearts.
Traveling is important because it removes us from ourselves and creates distance from our current lives and our current thoughts. I tend to realize how streamlined my life has become with my routines and my thoughts, both wanted and unwanted. Traveling made me realize how there is a deep silent longing to break apart all boundaries that keep my world neat and tidy and instead to have it roar through the street like a tidal wave set free.
Going to new places is a magic of its own. Places we’ve been harbor memories of our past, no matter how much we have released or let go, they can sometimes feel like ghosts still wander there with whispered words and the trace of footsteps.
New places have no ghosts and everything is fresh and new. Of course, you take yourself but often we are a bit off balance and so we too are finding and discovering new parts of ourselves, seeing ourselves in different ways, watching thoughts like cities that pass by on the train.
Language. Oh, sweet little words.
On this adventure, I was the one who spoke only English and so I was usually quiet as my friend ordered and asked directions, and took care of all the logistics. Waiters would eye us quizzically wondering where we were from because between the three of us we spoke Italian, French, and English all at once.
Meeting people was whole other adventure, and we met some good ones, but it was a struggle for me. I didn’t realize how much I talked to people, in simple ways, in greetings or small questions about their day, until I wasn’t able to communicate with them, and wanting to.
Speaking with someone I met was like playing a game of go fish. The huge pebbled rocks shifted under our feet as the moon made a fishing line on the waters of the sea. There was no sand on this beach, only the elongated egg-shaped rocks and the clear water I could see right through, and the torch lights around the bay. I began to tell him a story of where I’d grown up. One sentence and then a pause. “Do you understand me,” I asked. He smiled in this cute way and shook his head, “Not really.”
I didn’t realize how much stories connect us. “People are stories,” I’d told his friend earlier when we were all having pink wine across the street from the beach, and laughing about funny stories he was sharing, like the night he graduated and in celebration couldn’t find the lock on his door and woke up in the morning in his hallway curled at his doorstep.
The words people choose say a lot about them. The stories they tell. How they express themselves. Before the beach walk, I’d talked in pieces, having a conversation about tattoos, travel, and how we are different now from the people we once were. I don’t speak Italian and English is complex, but sometimes there’s enough to see the flicker of someone you recognize.
Through our traveling, we’d ask our friend, how do you say this or that? I realized that in other languages there would be one word that can mean different things. But in English, there may be five different words to describe the same thing and they each have a different flavor, a different feeling. And that is what I love – The precision of English, how I can go to a famous, old bookstore and write:
A mismatched porcelain floor, tiles cracked and shattered, ancient old
And that is the exact rhythm, the exact order that I want the words, like music notes, in a precise key.
My friend says that English is weird. Looking online can be confusing but here’s the gist of what I found.
- English: 273,000 words (171,476 of which are still used)
- French: 100,000 words (with 350,000 definitions. This means that each word has an average of 3 definitions.
- Italian: 260,000 words
They say that English is one of the hardest languages to learn. They say that someone fluent in a language knows 10,000 words, but that we use only about 3,000 on a daily basis. For example, you must know 3,000 Chinese characters to be able to read a newspaper or watch TV.
My guess is that French and Italian are similar in definitions, meaning that there can be 1 word but it can be defined in 3 different ways. In English, we’d use three different words.
There is something I love about the precision of words, the exact color, flavor, shade. But I may be biased because it’s my only language. But not for long. In a while, (no time period set) I’ll be speaking Italian and who knows what other adventures that will lead to.
For now, as I adjust back into life in LA with my car instead of walking everywhere, I will appreciate the opportunity for adventure. I will dream of cobblestone streets, bread and cheese stores, gelato, and pasta al dente, large sidewalks with tiny tables and people gathered like schools of fish until all hours of the night, architecture that stretches to the sky from civilizations past.
And I’ll walk to the grassy knoll with all these things to fill my head, two feet in LA and, my mind wandering.
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