Word in Language (24): English Course (3)

In the fourth and final part of this short course in English, we will look at word connections made by the addition of letters. Sometimes it is possible to make connections simply by adding a letter, and we have seen examples of these: SELF and FALSE or FLESH, for example, or GOD and GOLD. Here, I have simply added a letter (a, h, l) without making any other changes. But often it is necessary to apply the rules we have studied and make a change to the vowels, apply the seven phonetic pairs and b-v-w, change a letter according to the alphabet or its appearance. A good example is LAND and PLANT – we have added the letter p, but also applied the phonetic pair d-t. Or FLESH and FATHER – we have added the letter a, but also applied the alphabetical pair s-t. We may need to replace i and u with their corresponding semi-vowels j/y and w, c with the two ways it is pronounced, k or s, or to double a letter.

These are the words we are going to look at. See if by adding the letter in brackets and making any other necessary changes, by maintaining or changing the order of the letters, you can arrive at the connections:

FISH   LINE   (+ a)   AIR   CROWN   WORK   (+ d)

FLIRT   PLOT   (+ e)   LOVER   (+ f)   FIRE   (+ g)

GRIST   DIE   EGO   (+ h)   GREEN   (+ i)   FIRE   (+ l)

SNARE   (+ o)   FIEND   (+ r)   EXIT   (+ s)

FISH   SEMEN   (+ t)   IDLE   (+ v)

The two most commonly added letters are h and e. The first letter, h, is the way we represent breath in the alphabet, so it is not entirely surprising that we should often find this letter has been added – we are simply adding breath to the word. Think of the example of TREE, which has a single trunk, but when it sprouts branches turns into THREE, becoming three in one (a good analogy for the Holy Trinity). Nor is it entirely surprising that the other commonly added letter should be e, since this is the most common letter in the English language. What strikes me is that the two letters together spell he, and that points us to Christ.

The other commonly added letters are all grammatical. The first of them is s, which we use in English to make the plural (car, cars) and to make the third person singular of the present tense (learn, learns). Again, what I find striking is that if we add s to he, we get she, and that points us to Mary, his Mother.

The next four most commonly added letters are the two most common phonetic pairs I have already mentioned, d-t and l-r. Again, they are grammatical. D and t are the way we pronounce the past tense in English – think of the past of learn, which can be spelled learned or learnt (think of the past of spell, which can be written spelled or spelt!). These letters are appended to the end of verbs in English to indicate that the action was in the past. Meanwhile, l and r are suffixes used to turn nouns into adjectives – think of words like normal and regular.

The other most commonly added letter is n. Again, it is grammatical because n is used to make the past participle of irregular verbs (see, seen). So letters that are used in grammar to make derivatives, words that derive from others, are also commonly added in the formation of word connections. The other letters are vowels: e in first place (we often find this letter at the end of words in English, lengthening the previous vowel – think of shin and shine or man and mane), but also i and a. This completes the list of most commonly added letters: h, e, s, d-t, l-r, n, i and a.

Let us look now at the examples. If we add a to FISH (and apply the alphabetical pair s-t), we get FAITH. This is a remarkable connection because the fish is an early symbol of Christianity. The letters of the word for ‘fish’ in Greek, ichthys, form an acronym, again in Greek, for ‘Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour’. The symbol is made up of two overlapping lines – two hands in prayer. The fish may also remind us of pivotal moments in Christ’s ministry: the feeding of the five thousand; the feeding of his disciples on the beach by the Sea of Tiberias at the end of John’s Gospel, when Christ asks Peter to feed his sheep, a reference to the formation of the Church.

Meanwhile, LINE gives us ALIEN. We create an alien by drawing a line between them and us. We draw a line when we make ourselves out to be authors. The line is also the ego in English – the pronoun I. When we draw a line, we are claiming property, but this is hard to do given that nothing begins with us and things pass through us. We are translators, not authors, but our urge to be authors (and to deny the existence of the real author of all things) leads in our world to inequality, the haves and have-nots, to war and suffering. Christ asks us to embrace the other, because the OTHER is God (THEOS in Greek). We are not saved alone, but in community (we pray for each other, and the saints pray for us).

With the addition of the letter d, from AIR, we get BIRD (alphabetical pair a-b). Well, a bird is intimately linked with the air, so it is logical that the two words should be connected.

From CROWN, we get GROUND (u-w, phonetic pair g-k). This is to show that opposites are connected. To us, with our limited vision, they may seem far apart – certainly if you are perched in the crown of a tree, the ground will appear far off – but the truth is they are connected. It matters what happens on the other side of the fence – this is why translation is so important, so that cultures can understand one another and interact – but all too often we are concerned primarily or exclusively with what is going on in our own patch. We are saved as a body. We find this connection between distant points in similar word connections: ROOF-FLOOR (addition of l), TOP-BOTTOM (phonetic pair b-p, addition of m). Word connections are often confirmed like this.

From WORK, we get WORLD (alphabetical pair k-l). The world is a place of work – if we do not work, nothing will grow (and you will see that WORK and GROW are the reverse of one another, phonetic pair g-k). But this work is not in vain. It has its reward. If we read WORK back to front and add the letter n, we get CROWN. If we apply ourselves to the virtues, which is hard work, if we persevere in the face of doubts (our own as much as anybody else’s), we will receive the crown of righteousness. We will not achieve anything in the world without work.

The next is a wonderful example, because FLIRT, if we add the letter e, gives TRIFLE. I have to confess that, when I was young, my brother James used to make the most delicious trifles, with fruit and sponge cake, cream and custard. Once finished, it would sit there, on the side in the kitchen, attracting people’s attention, saying, ‘Here I am! Come and eat me!’ My brother’s trifle is not the only thing to do this – to flirt, I mean – fruit does it as well to attract the attention of animals that will spread the plant’s seeds far and wide. That is why FRUIT and FLIRT are also connected (phonetic pair l-r, addition of u). All Nature is attracting attention – or hiding!

And what is the purpose of a PLOT? The purpose of a PLOT is to TOPPLE someone. I give these last two examples to show that word connections aren’t necessarily theological – they can be mundane, or political.

By the addition of the letter f, we find LOVER in FLOWER. Well, just as fruit flirts, so a flower is a potential lover for an insect. Flowers are designed to turn heads, and we find that the reverse of FLOWER is REVOLVE for this reason (phonetic pairs f-v and b-v-w).

By the addition of g, we find FIRE in GRIEF. Grief is a purifying experience. It reduces us to our bare minimum, without the trimmings (which don’t matter anymore, or even make us sick). We are left only with ourselves, and it doesn’t amount to much. And yet this increases our dependence on God. Our pride is wiped away at a stroke. The clearest eyes I ever saw – together with those of a monk on Mt Athos – were those of a husband at his wife’s funeral. He was holding the pain inside. Isn’t this to be a disciple? To hold the pain, albeit for a while, rather than to toss it aside. To participate, to take up some of the slack, to bear witness.

Through the addition of h, we can connect GRIST with CHRIST (phonetic pair g-k). Grist is corn that is to be ground. Can you imagine two millstones whirling in a dance, rotating one on top of the other, with nothing in between? Their activity will, in the end, prove pointless. If we rotate in a dance, with nothing in between, what are we really doing? We need the grist of Christ in our lives – not just thin air, but matter that we can hold on to. God is not only spirit. He came down to earth and assumed our human nature. Every Sunday, we can consume his most holy body. This gives us grist for the mill. And what word is in MILL in reverse? I’M. Christ takes us away from the selfishness of our own desires, he provides a purpose, something we can grind. He is the bread of life.

I said before that Nature also likes to hide – especially when it dies. When an animal is about to die, it often disappears. We don’t see it anymore. This is why DIE and HIDE are connected. When we DIE, we SHED our outer coating (alphabetical pair h-i, addition of s). DIE is like the TIDE (addition of t), which comes in and goes out, just like our breathing.

Again, with the addition of h, we find EGO in ECHO (phonetic pair g-k). Isn’t our ego an echo? Isn’t it just telling us what we want to hear? But this is a kind of blindness. We will never learn anything if all we listen to is our own voice. We have to hear the voice of the other. We open ourselves to what is alien, take part in its joys and sufferings.

Through the addition of i (y), we find that GREEN is in ENERGY. This is an incentive perhaps to look for green sources of energy. After all, GREEN is CLEAN (phonetic pairs g-k, l-r).

By the addition of that other letter that represents the ego, l, we find FIRE in RIFLE. This, for me, is very interesting. What does a rifle, which bears a striking resemblance to the ego, since it is a straight line, do? It fires and then it takes a man’s life. Can you believe that, in our urge to be authors and to lay claim to property, we have created a representation of our ego – the line – for the purpose of taking another man’s life? RIFLE: FIRE – LIFE. There is language to tell us.

Our reason tells us we have the right. We listen to our reason, we rely on it, often to justify the actions of the ego. Well, why shouldn’t I? After all… And there is the voice of our conscience to provide a counter-argument. Well, it isn’t exactly fair, especially if you look at it from the other’s point of view. Reason is comforting. Reason tells us we can have what we want. But REASON contains SNARE (addition of o) and can be found in TREASON (addition of t). Perhaps it will do us a bad turn in the end and we should rely on faith instead. SNARE is also in ANSWER (addition of w). An answer is also comforting, it closes the chapter (but never for long).

Jesus must have thought he had a friend in Judas. Or this is what casual onlookers must have surmised when they saw them together. FRIEND is a complicated word, however. Without the r, it spells FIEND, and certainly the devil entered Judas when he decided to betray his master. Is that a coincidence? Yes, of course it is. Everything is coincidence, things happening together. But as I said before, there are other connections to confirm it. Look at the first four letters of FRIEND and apply the phonetic pairs f-v and l-r. What word do you find? EVIL. And in the last four letters of FRIEND? DENY. Language knew long before it happened what would come to pass.

‘All the world’s a stage,’ wrote Shakespeare in As You Like It. EARTH is in THEATRE. When our role is done, we exit stage left or right – perhaps left to join the goats and right to join the sheep (Mt 25:31-46). That is why EXIT is in EXIST. At some juncture, we exit and exist – in terms of the theatre – no longer. Life is but a dream. The ancient Greeks referred to the boundary between the earth and the underworld as the river STYX. This word is also in EXIST.

What is it that a FISH can do better than any other living creature? It can dart about, it can move from side to side, suddenly change direction. It can SHIFT (addition of t). I find this a very visual connection. I think of the fish in the water suddenly disappearing, parallel becoming perpendicular.

At the beginning of life is the seed and the egg. Only if an egg is fertilized will it remain in the mother’s womb, will it stick to the side of the womb and gestate. This is because SEMEN acts as a CEMENT (addition of t). Cement is a kind of past tense. The introduction of the seed cements the egg to the womb, where it can develop.

The DEVIL makes work for IDLE hands (addition of v). We have come across several connections with DEVIL: EVIL, LIVED, DIFFER, WICKED, DEFILE, YIELD…

We have now studied all the rules for making word connections. In all likelihood, we will have to rearrange the letters, not read them in the same order (though there are a few connections where it is not necessary to rearrange the letters). We may replace the vowels i and u with their corresponding semi-vowels j/y and w, c with the two ways it is pronounced (k/s). We may double a letter. We may change a vowelvowels flow – especially the front vowels a, e and i. We may change a consonant according to where it is pronounced in the mouth – the seven phonetic pairs, plus b-v-w. We may change a letter according to its position in the alphabet and its appearance (by turning it upside down, back to front, by extending it). And having done all of these things, we may add a letter, most commonly he, she.

Language is encoded. It wishes to tell us about human life, why we are here, where we come from (the act of creation in the Garden of Eden), our current situation (a result of the Fall, where the ego holds sway, the line that produces aliens) and what we can do about it (repentance). I have given numerous examples to show that word connections are not isolated events, but part of a greater fabric in history, a thread floating in eternity, time is a thread floating in eternity. It is up to us what we do with the thread. We can discard it. We can use it to sew up a wound. We can tie it into a knot to remind us of something. We can add it to the tapestry, our own particular flash of colour. Life is a thread, a series of events taking us ever onwards, in a direction that will benefit us if we allow it. A water snake propelling us forwards. A hair in the eye that we must remove. The eye of a needle.

Thread is the breath that connects birth and death. All these words are connected. Our timeline is our breath. Our breath is our ‘to be continued’.

The eye of the needle, depending on the angle, can be enormous. Like the sun in the trees.

Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com

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