1. the courage to make up new words,
2. the confidence that his readers would understand what these new words meant, and
3. he was a master of meter, the rhythm that is created when you arrange your words so that the stressed and unstressed syllables fall into patterns.
There are a couple dozen types of meter, but Dr. Seuss used only one of them, anapestic meter, sometimes called galloping meter because it tumbles off the tongue.
People often conflate meter with rhyming. But meter does NOT have to rhyme to work its magic.
The magic of being musical.
“Meter makes words musical?”
“Even when read silently?”
Yes, even when read silently.
“So, what’s the benefit of it?”
When words become musical, they enter into the non-judgmental, pattern-recognition portion of your mind.
The right hemisphere of the brain doesn’t know fact from fiction; that’s the left brain’s job. Pierre de Beaumarchais understood this way back in 1775.
“How do you know?”
It was in 1775 that Beaumarchais wrote in The Barber of Seville, “Anything too stupid to be spoken is sung.”
“I think you’re making all this up.”
Dr. Roger Sperry documented it in 1981 and they awarded him the Nobel Prize for it.
“Oh… so maybe I should just shut up and listen?”
Might be a good idea.
Bounty, the quicker-picker-upper.
BMW. The ultimate driving machine.
My client would not, could not, did not commit these crimes. If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.
“Are those examples of anapestic meter?”
No, anapestic meter is two light stresses followed by a heavy third stress, like this:
Oh, the sea is so full of a number of fish,
if a fellow is patient, he might get his wish…
and that’s why I think that I’m not such a fool
when I sit here and fish in McElligot’s Pool.
And who could forget,
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer…
“Okay, but can you give me an example of anapestic meter that doesn’t rhyme?”
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn has blown,
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And so there lay the rider distorted and grey,
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
So I walk by the edge of a lake in my dream.
“But you said Dr. Seuss made up new words and trusted that people would know what they mean.”
You want to hear some made-up words?
“Yeah, but not from Dr. Seuss.”
“Because I won’t be speaking or writing to little kids. My people are old enough to drive cars, drink beer, and vote.”
Fair enough. Here are some grown-up, made-up words.
The reason you haven’t seen me out is because I’ve been Hiberdating.
I type slowly because I’m Unkeyboardinated.
Give me a bus ticket to anywhere. I’m going Columbusing.
I can’t remember where I went last night. I think I’ve got Destinesia.
The doctor and I had a Nonversation. It was very Unlightening.
I don’t hang out with Todd anymore. He was always staring at his phone in a high state of Textpectation, so I Dudevorced him.
You can’t say Idiot anymore. You’ve got to say Errorist.
I was so exhausted I fell into bed and had a Bedgasm.
“Okay, I get it.”
But can you do it?
“What do you mean?”
Sixty-nine years ago, John Steinbeck wrote a note to his best friend, Pascal Covici:
“I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straightening shyness that assails one. It is as though the words were not only indelible but that they spread out like dye in water and color everything around them. A strange and mystic business, writing. … And one thing we have lost – the courage to make new words or combinations. Somewhere that old bravado has slipped off into a gangrened scholarship. Oh! you can make words if you enclose them in quotation marks. This indicates that it is dialect and cute.”
– John Steinbeck, Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters
“Okay, so you’re saying what?”
I want you to honor Dr. Seuss and John Steinbeck by finding the courage to make new words and new combinations.
“Why should I go to the trouble?”
1. It will make you interesting.
2. It will make you memorable.
3. It will make you money.
“Are you saying that if I don’t do this I’m an Errorist?”
That’s exactly what I’m saying.
“Where should I send my sentence with a made-up word in it?”
“Do you think he’ll publish it in the rabbit hole?”
I have no idea. Indy does what he wants in the rabbit hole.
“How long do I have?”
Until Saturday, November 21st at midnight. You need to write two sentences; one with a made-up word that we instantly understand PLUS a second sentence featuring an unexpected combination of two or more words.
“Can you give me some examples of unexpected combinations?”
It was a bicycle morning. Anticipation rang the bell on my happiness meter until a telephone call ended it all and my words froze and shattered in the airless air.
“Did you just make that up?”
Yeah. Now it’s your turn.
Roy H. Williams
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