I do a lot of editing, and the documents I work on often contain repeated words. And as I read those documents over and over in slightly different versions, I have noticed that some words, when you see them again and again, become stranger and stranger looking.
“Blog” is one of those words. Repeat it to yourself: blog, blog, blog blog blog….it starts to sound like the name of a space alien, some little goggly-eyed guy with a green knob sticking out of his head. “Zone” is another example, because anything beginning with a Z can sound like a buzzing insect, and long Os are particularly goofy, maybe because the lips are pursed in a funny position. Try it—zoohne zooohne zoooohnne. Add to this category any word that combines two others and then requires that you pronounce them differently, like “feather.” If just once you notice that the word is composed of “feat” and “her” you’ll never again be able to see it, or say it in your head, as it’s supposed to be. See?–Feat Her. Gotcha.
Today I am editing a brochure about charitable giving in which the word “bequest” appears frequently, and I’m becoming fixated on it. It’s not that “bequest” is particularly strange looking—bequest, bequest bequest—although you can start to rumble around over the “kwest” part, just because it’s got that lovely kwaaaa sound, kwa-est kwa-est kwaaa-est!
The thing that’s fascinating about “bequest” is that it doesn’t mean what you think it should. A bequest, of course, is a legacy, which is a noble enough thing. But if you see it repeatedly it in its component parts, it looms as a large and dramatic event–Be Quest! It’s a call to action! It’s King Arthur’s knights (kanights?) riging off on their fiery steeds, seeking the Holy Grail. Be Quest! Be Quest….
Perhaps I should get out more.