You Were in My Head?

Man in Scottish costumeGlamour has not always meant a red carpet running from long cars into the theater where Academy Awards are given out. At one time the word meant something closer to “magic”, which doesn’t entirely rule out walking down a red carpet, depending on who is doing the Stroll of Fame, and what that black dress with lilac feathers looks like.

Am I going to be able to turn that last paragraph into something related to writing? Script writers, maybe? Turn my novel into a movie?

Nope. I mean, yeah, turn my novel into a movie, but that’s not it. I’m going to use—if we could get a respectful hush in the building—etymology. The word “glamour” originated as a Scottish pronunciation of the word “grammar”. It’s the L/R thing, the way those sounds get mixed up, which we usually think of as a characteristic of a Japanese accent. I’m not sure why the Scots were mixing up those sounds (although they did invent whiskey).Bottle of Scottish whiskey

Now you’re scratching your head saying, “OK, naturally I see the connection between whiskey and Hollywood, but what do grammar and magic have to do with one another?” The etymology in question goes back several hundred years, when of course few people knew how to write, and the word grammar was a kind of short-hand term, perhaps in a slangy way, for literacy.

In other words, the ability to write was sometimes seen as having an almost magical power. Something you have no doubt frequently noticed while reading this blog. One can, however, easily lose sight of that majestic reality after reading a stack of freshman essays in a first-year writing class. Under those circumstances writing seems like a subtle tool of the Lord of Darkness.

So anyway, when a loud drunken Scot yelled out “Ye can nae tell me ye ken glamour, ye dumb bastard!” (“ken” meaning “to know”) he was asserting the illiteracy of the dumb bastard in question. Given the rarity of writing, an ability with literacy connoted power and magic of the MacBeth witches sort.

Does it make sense to you that writing can be seen as magic? It certainly does to me. If you can get all the writing teachers out of the room and consider the real purpose of writing, what is it? It is to move thoughts from one person’s mind into another person’s mind. Think about that. Stop reading for a few seconds and consider it. We can take thoughts from one person and put them into another person. In fact, we can take thoughts from someone, hold them until that person is dead, wait a thousand years, and then put those thoughts into another person’s mind.

By God, if that’s not magic, I’m waiting to hear what is.

Writing can be so revelatory of someone’s thoughts that at times, when slogging through freshman essays, I had uncomfortable moments, as though I had snuck into someone’s head without their entirely realizing it. In one way, a writer intends for us to read their thoughts (and for you grammar geeks, yes, I know that “writer” is singular and “their” is plural). The writer deliberately wants to say something, and hopes we will get it. In other ways, the writer almost always is saying something without realizing it, as some people would read my last sentence, telling them that for all my pretence to grammatical knowledge, I made a mistake in using the word “their”.

A writer might also unconsciously reveal an attitude toward women, or Mexicans, or Baptists, without intending to. Or the writer might show insecurity, fear, arrogance, and so on, without really setting out to do that either, and in some cases without ever realizing it. It can be a shock sometimes, and not always a pleasant shock, for someone to tell us how they perceive our writing. It can be very hard to take criticism of our writing, to learn the difference between what we intended and what someone thinks we said. Didn’t I show you a little bit of my heart? And then you stomped on it?

The letter “T” is basically two lines that intersect. Punctuation is pretty much little dots of various shapes. It’s just ink. It’s only paper. But when that ink swirls in the right directions, when your mind catches the mystery of the swirls, suddenly doors and windows open and an unknown breeze blows in. Then the smell of cinnamon and lamb comes through the open flap of a tent and you hear the bells clanking on the necks of the camels. Now you can step out to see the reddish-gold light as the sun goes down, to see veiled women carrying jugs of water down near the tall, curving palm trees, and you are in another world. A glamorous world.

Witches from MacBeth

Witches from MacBeth


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