HOW ENGLISH SAVED ME
I never tire of asking friends what is their favorite word in English. Invariably, I get blank looks and stunned silence as if they have never thought about it. I am amazed how little native speakers care for English or admire what I think is the stunning beauty of this magnificent language. The English language is largely unappreciated in this country except for academics and our wonderful American writers whose miraculous use of English can truly transport one to paradise. It is a paradox that others who are interested in this language are often the non-native speakers such as myself. It is a beautiful, precise language with little room for vexing tautologies.
I fell in love with English when I was an eight year old Army brat in Germany. I attended an American military school and a German tutor was assigned to teach me English. He loved the English language also. He was a kind and brilliant man and gave me the greatest gift that anyone has ever given me: my fascination for English.
I was born in Puerto Rico. I grew up in a family of limited resources although I would not consider us poor. I have seen a lot of poverty in this world and although my family did not have a lot of money, we certainly had all the necessities and beautiful clothes sewed expertly by my talented mother. My parents were highly intelligent but uneducated. My father never learned to speak or write proper English although he spent thirty years in the Army. My mother spoke excellent English although she only had a ninth-grade education. I never saw my father read a book during his long life. They were more puzzled than proud of some of my academic achievements. I don't think I ever told them I won the English medal in my senior year in high school.
If my father had not been sent to Germany by the Army my life would have been entirely different. Perhaps I would not have learned English so well. The many cousins I have in Puerto Rico of course do not know English as well as I do. You cannot be considered an educated person in Puerto Rico unless you speak English well in spite of the many academic degrees you may have.
My favorite word in English is "incunabula". Perhaps an academic and a purist might say the word is not English, but Latin. The word refers to the books printed in the first fifty years after the invention of the printing press circa 1450. I love that word and it is used in English and therefore it is an English word although its root, and perhaps the entire word, is Latin. English is chockfull of Latin and Germanic roots. That is why I found it so facile to learn. Another favorite word is "tectonic". I love how it is written and I love its pronunciation. My favorite writer is fascinated by words such as " gunmetal" and "nacreous" to describe certain colors. He loves sailing nomenclature and can describe an early dawn duck shoot on an Egyptian lake which will have us rooting for the hunters.
Words should be stolen at every possible opportunity. Plagiarism is one of the more ridiculous inventions of humankind. I hope Annie Proulx would be pleased at my use of the word "gelatinous" to describe certain colors which I promptly clipped from her. Who is so inhuman as to read Ernest Hemingway's astonishing short story "Hills Like White Elephants " and not seek to emulate it until his dying day. Not me. Who can read the last one-line paragraph of the Great Gatsby and not promise himself "This is the way I am going to write for the rest of my life". It would be a dull human indeed.
English has provided me with untold hours of pleasure in reading, speaking and writing. It is the base for the economic stability in my life. It is how I communicate to others that I love them. It is how I teach children about the natural wonders of the world. It is how I defend clients in the courtroom.
When I meet my maker I am absolutely positive that I will address her in English. She will certainly know the meaning of the word " incunabula".