He loved words. A writer. Words weren’t just his stock and trade, they were his very reason for living. Like the jeweler with his gems, painter with his colors, junkie with his pills, so was he with words. Or take any other analogy one might care to create, because apt analogies are merely precise word clusters and therefore as invaluable as any bejeweled crown, perfect shading or illicit stash.
For years, a certain word had come to mercilessly gall him.
The word initially lodged itself in the soft tissue of his brain like an oyster’s grain of sand. But instead of accreting into a pearl, this particular qualificative had metastasized into a vicious tumor. One he could no longer ignore. It grated, so to speak, on his nerves. Tarnished and contaminated anything with which it came into contact.
To remedy this singular logophobia, he chose the radical surgery option. He needed to cut his losses, cosmetics be damned. Henceforth, each time he reached for an adjective to denote the transcendent, the optimal, the most magnificent, whenever he wished to express ultimate approval—whether as a single-word utterance or to simply modify a noun—he would, at all costs, eschew… the G-word.
He performed a search & replace in every unpublished manuscript…
Burned T-shirts, any stupid hats celebrating the adjectival affront…
Forbade his children and students to use it.
He wasn’t messing around here.
You wouldn’t think it’d be that hard. Yet so ingrained was the G-word that at first he had trouble sticking to the plan. His saving grace, however, manifested itself in an alternative adjective:
Easy to recover from a verbal misstep with:
He flavored his Grand with a slight Irish inflection, a comic brogue. It wasn’t hard; felt familiar and correct. In time, it confidently and completely replaced the G-word in his vocabulary. He’d blurt without hesitation:
Additionally, he invested his vocabulary with a plethora of alternate pluperfections. He dug deep. There were, it turned out, so manyinteresting ace adjectives readily available in search engines and thesauri:
He also effectively employed understatement:
(This last little quiet throttle on hyperbole did not go unappreciated by those weary of the New Nationalistic Grandiosity from which G-word worship had arisen.)
A newfound sense of originality returned not only to his writing but also to every conversation and interaction. He grew more verbally… tolerant. To be sure, he still involuntarily cringed or flinched upon reading or hearing the G-word, but was less inclined to indulge in any absurd, futile, mental substitutions:
The Grand Lakes
The Big Depression
Alexander the Gnarly…
As it so happened, he sold a novel. Finally. The publisher was very excited, asked to see what else he had in the hopper and turned the acquisition into a multi-book deal.
In reviewing manuscript notes, the writer saw where the editor had made an innocuous suggestion that, instead of saying his grandfather’s father, he use the conventional, more concise G-word descriptor.
The writer flat-out refused.
It became a point of contention and almost blew the entire deal. After a prolonged, mystifying back and forth, the editor caved.
A week later the editor called.
He said, I got to thinking… and I did a search of your other manuscripts. And you know what?
The writer knew what was coming.
Not once do you use the word—
Because it’s overused, unearned, banal and lazy.
You know why.
The editor teasingly accused him of being OCD.
Then the editor jokingly called him a grammar Nazi. This was inaccurate, of course, but it pushed a button.
Okay, since you went there, did you know… that in the years following World War II not a single newborn male child in Germany was named Adolf?
The editor chuckled and muttered, You’re crazy.
The editor chortled a small chuff of bemused acceptance then said, Whatever.
Okay, so… we good?
A considerable pause. At last he spoke:
Yeah, we’re good. In fact, this might be something we can use.
Well, it’s a marketable quirk. Something you’ll be known for. A stylistic conceit. Like Perec—you know he wrote an entire novel without using the letter E?
I’d rather people discovered it on their own.
No, trust me. This is a thing. It’ll sell books.
Well, that’s what you want, isn’t it—to sell books? You do want to be rich, right?
What a stupid question, thought the writer. Nothing to do with the issue at hand. Words were the only thing, ultimately, that held any value for him. From an early age, he’d filled spiral notebooks with those that pleased him. He still read those notebooks, coveting certain words, dreaming of a story he might decorate with language he loved. Sometimes he’d repeat a word in stormy sleep over and over, tossed on waves of dreams until morning, when the word would dive back into his subconscious like a played-out seal.
But don’t you think announcing it will make me look insane? You don’t think that’s… trying too hard?
Well, you’re a writer. You are insane, the editor laughed. But it’s fine.
Oh yes. It’s more than fine… said the editor with an almost audible smile.
The writer held his breath, body tensing. No No No No No—
As a matter of fact, said the editor, it’s great.
Robert Morgan Fisher won the 2018 Chester Himes Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the 2019 John Steinbeck Award. His fiction and essays have appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals including Pleiades, Storyscape Journal, Teach. Write., The Wild Word, The Arkansas Review, Red Wheelbarrow, The Missouri Review Soundbooth Podcast, Dime Show Review, 0-Dark-Thirty, The Huffington Post, Psychopomp, The Seattle Review, The Spry Literary Journal, 34th Parallel, The Journal of Microliterature, Spindrift, The Rumpus, Bluerailroad and many other publications. He’s written for TV, radio and film. Robert holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles and is currently on the teaching faculty of Antioch University Santa Barbara. Since 2016, Robert has led the UCLA Wordcommandos, an acclaimed twice-weekly writing workshop for veterans with PTSD. He often writes companion songs to his short stories. Both his music and fiction have won many awards. Robert also voices audiobooks. (www.robertmorganfisher.com)