Saturday, October 29, 2005

Tweaking the Vernacular

As a collector of words and father of an eight year old, I tackled yesterday’s dictionary giveaway assignment with unwarranted vigor. But kicks are hard to find, so it didn’t bother me in he least to spend an hour stepping over third graders and lingering on my love of language. It started early. Though not overly coordinated or entirely confident, I was, if anything, a child with a vocabulary. Credit my mother with that one. She always tolerated my bibliophilic tendencies, even when what I was reading fairly alarmed her. But she couldn’t keep up. Cereal boxes, TV listings, tattered roadmaps; nothing was beyond my scouring gaze. As a boy, it wasn’t usual to find me wedged between the La-Z-Boy and the wood paneling, squinting at a perplexing passage in the family‘s encyclopedia through smudged lenses. To this day whenever I stumble across a good book of reference, I‘m inclined to recline.

But that’s in my off hours. Dayside, I’m paid to reconnaissance, armed only with a state of the art camera, prehistoric tripod and soon to be middle-age grimace. But I pretty much abandoned my three-legged perch altogether, choosing instead to shoulder my axe and wade into the crowd. It helped that the crowd consisted of distracted elementary kids. Splayed out on the gymnatorium floor of Triangle Lake Montessori School, the kids flipped through the pages of their very first printed omnibus, courtesy of the local Kiwanis Club. As the kids ignored me I bagged shot after shot, grateful for the invisibility. Occasionally they’d look up and gape at my logo but for the most part they furrowed their brows and repeated strange new words under their breath, providing a target-rich environment for a cameramanthropologist on a synonym binge.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the glossary. Once my camera was full of sound and images, I put the thing down, checked my watch and put the cell phone on mute. Minutes later I was ensconsed in eight year olds, sitting cross-legged with six new best friends and sounding out the word cra-ni-um. It’s not often I ignore the Prime Directive of newsgathering and interfere with the life forms I encounter, but having documented the moment with lenses both moving and still, I couldn’t help but join the tikes for a little syllable breakdown. Though some of them were more intrigued by the wireless microphone hanging from my waist, the rest willingly joined me on my word hunt. This pleased me immensely, as it is my hope one of these fine youngsters will continue collecting words and, like me, someday know the joy of lining them up in particular order for tens, nay, dozens of people on a daily basis.

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