‘Certain words have a primary role in language since from them spring all others, and where, who, how, what, why and when occupy this unique position.
It will be noticed that they are all questions, and questions were invented to produce answers in the form of other words.
These other words are then collected and stored in the memory under the heading ‘knowledge”.
P.B. Rivers an extraordinary existentialist has accosted Smith in the street, and he, having nothing better to do stops for a moment to hear what he has to say. He does not have long to wait for…
‘How close to the edge are you?’ He demands.
Smith usually appreciates the existentialist territory of P.B. Rivers, often spending long periods there himself, however, on occasion, as for instance right now, he enjoys slipping back over the border into a world where people think the sun comes out and goes in.
P. B. Rivers however, pursues his course with unbending intent and pins Smith with a ruthless eye.
Fortunately as it happens Smith has his wits about him.
‘Effoph and ask somebody else,’ he says.
‘You are somebody else,’ replies P. B. Rivers. ‘So how close to the edge are you?’ he asks again.
Smith is taken a little aback by this.
‘What edge?’ he asks.
P. B. Rivers ignores this diversion.
‘What I’m talking about is the edge of language,’ says P. B. Rivers. ‘Some words are just bait and can be used to collect other words: Take Who, How, Why, What, Where and When. Put any one of them on the end of a fishing line and cast it upon the waters.
For instance try baiting the line with “How” – wait a moment and pull it in, and there at the end of the line will be a shoal of other words: Instructions for operating complex machinery like the latest vacuum-cleaners; high-tech electronic apparatus or indecipherable half Chinese whispers on the assemblage of flat pack furniture etc.
‘I’m not interested in vacuum-cleaners’, says Smith.
P. B. Rivers ignores this also. ‘Let’s start with the word “What”’, he says, and pointing across the street. ‘Look over there; do you see that one-legged thing with green hair?’
‘I see it,’ says Smith.
‘Well what is it?’ says P. B. Rivers.
‘Well it is not a lamp-post,’ answers Smith, determined to get up his friend’s nose if he can.
‘Lamp-posts do not have green hair; in my experience lamp-posts do not have any hair at all and are in fact entirely bald.’
Smith’s evasive technique gets right up P. B. Rivers’ nose.
‘Your prevarications are not funny,’ he snaps. ‘You know very well there is a word for it, in fact there is a word for everything.’
P. B. Rivers is right and Smith, looking around him sees that it is so and therefore realises that he is trapped.
He is entirely surrounded by language!
‘Perhaps I should escape to Swaziland where all things have different names, none of which I know and will thus be free from this imposition,’ he thinks. Desperate to get away he now reverts to his original response.
‘Effoph and ask another somebody else’, he says, and without waiting for more he effsoph himself.
Call it what you will
The sun; a bird; a tree
And still it stands.
Name the bark-clad trunk
Or arabesque of leaf
Yet still it stands
And standing still
Is none of these.
Describe a dark calligraphy
Of branch and twig
Half-hidden ‘midst a shoal of whispering green
And turn them in a moment
To a mouthful of words.
Art Nick Victor