The Wonder of Words: An Introduction to Language for Everyman

The Wonder of Words: An Introduction to Language for Everyman

The Wonder of Words: An Introduction to Language for Everyman

The Wonder of Words: An Introduction to Language for Everyman

Excerpt

The idea of this book first occurred to me almost twenty-five years ago. I was at that time a postgraduate student at Harvard University, pursuing research, especially in Hispanic culture, under the stimulating direction and friendship of Jeremiah Denis Mathias Ford. Professor Ford had the peculiar faculty of inspiring his students without words. He has been, in his too modest way, responsible for much North American pioneering in Spanish-American and Portuguese-American literature. Under the late Professor Edward Sheldon, the noted etymologist, I had been occupied with Old French. Under Professor Charles Hall Grandgent -- that bland humorist who could make Dante, Provençal, Phonetics, or Vulgar Latin equally exciting, and who further endeared himself to me by his fondness for, and intimate knowledge of, Gilbert and Sullivan -- I had discovered that such seemingly forbidding rubrics as grammar, etymology, morphology, and the other divisions of linguistics could be extremely fascinating. The study -- say, rather, the adventure-of language gradually emerged as one of the major miracles of human existence.

One other man there was who contributed substantially to this reawakened addiction to language: the eminent philosopher George Santayana. I took his course not for the subject but for the man. Santayana had a remarkable feeling for language as the spoken word. The very silences of his lectures were thrilling, for they meant, as we early discovered, a search for the precise term or phrase that fell into place with the satisfying cadence of the right chord in a musical progression.

I say "reawakened" addiction because, from my very earliest years, I had been attracted to the wonder and mystery of language. Grammar, which in my youth was as badly taught . . .

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