Word Games, by Bill Hagen

“I have in my hands the names of…” “I have in my hands 54 titles which…”

We are back in an internal cold war, my friends. Let’s no longer look for cocos in the government, now we look for words in some books. Republican politicians trying to convince us that they have found the sources of Evil, of our discontent: words on the pages of books! Next thing you know, we’re gonna say those words, do what those words say! The monkey reads, the monkey does!

Help me, Friends! I can’t let go of my murder mysteries and there’s no telling where they’re leading me!

Latvian files

If you can’t stand the sight, let alone the sound, of secular language, don’t go see Shawnee Little Theatre’s “August: Osage County.” It’s set in Oklahoma, uses language you can hear anywhere, if you’ve got ears, and it’s a damn good piece (there I said) and a damn good production to boot . Kind of like O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”, except it’s funnier.

It reminds me of when novelist Billie Letts was asked if she put family stories in Where the Heart Is and Honk and Holler Opening Soon; she said her son, Tracy, did that. And, boy, does he have in “August…”

It also reminds me of the memory of Billie Letts from 5th grade. She lived in her grandmother’s house because her parents made her life unbearable in their house (see the play). Her teacher told the class to do a reading report. Billie looked around her grandmother’s house; being of a devout persuasion, his grandmother had only the Good Book and a novel with what seemed to be an edifying title. So Billie Letts wrote a book report on Erskine Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre. She thought it was pretty good. For those of you too young and innocent to remember, Caldwell was the author of Tobacco Road and other novels about low lives in the Deep South, denounced from many pulpits. Letts’ teacher was very angry with her, but, being a contrary child, Billie took away another lesson. If a fiction writer could upset his 5th grade teacher that much, maybe she would give it a try. Writing, that is. And she did.

This leads into another Letts story: Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts was out, was meant to be a movie, and I was tired of teaching To Kill a Mockingbird year after year, as much as I loved it. Heart, you will recall, features a pregnant teenager, abandoned by her boyfriend, who survives by living in a Wal-Mart until she is taken to heart by the good people of a small town in Oklahoma. It is a very optimistic story, well told. So I assigned it to my freshman class.

I have a note asking me to drop by the president’s office. I won’t name it, except to say it was several presidents ago. He had a copy of the book, with a bunch of little colored bookmarks sticking out. It turns out that a student’s father had picked up the book and got excited about some of the words in one chapter, mostly from the wrong friend. He then highlighted and bookmarked each page with those words. He sent the book to the president hoping to get me to promise never to give away such a book again, or worse. (Neither his daughter nor any student complained to me or my dean about the book.)

There was no need to go through the pages, word by word. I knew the words and the president thought it would be enough to show me the colored bookmarks. I argued for the novel’s considerable moral and literary merits and he did not disagree, having not read it.

He wanted me to promise not to use the book again. I didn’t promise. We parted amicably, each understanding the position of the other. (The complaining father was a major donor, I was led to understand.). I was not threatened, but I was happy to have been established. And the students’ essays revealed that they enjoyed the real subject of the novel: people’s lives and the choices they make.

A modest Wordle proposal

I just know a lot of you are Wordle fans, maybe worried if the NY Times will start charging for our daily dose. Our other stress point is the discovery that we don’t usually think or write in five-letter words, the kind that solve Wordle puzzles. I don’t know about you, but once I get to second or third, four-letter words invade my mind, so much so that I find myself trying to add a letter at the beginning to make them acceptable.

Wordle.

You would think that immersing ourselves in word environments would make our brain work, read books or listen to a speech. But no, writers and speakers don’t embed so many Wordle words into their pages.

So a very modest proposal.

Could you, public speakers and preachers, sprinkle more 5-letter words into your speeches and sermons? Instead of “feel”, for example, how about “emote”? Instead of rejecting or disdaining, how about “hating”? In print versions of your speeches, why not bold all five-letter words?

Thus, Wordle fans would receive mental nourishment and navigate the daily puzzle with vocabulary gain. An increased appreciation of the value of your message would surely follow.

It might be good to label your sermons and speeches as “Wordle Worthy”. Even better, the most important passages could be announced as “Word Moments”, thus alerting listeners to pay close attention to them.

Now, for those of you fanatical enough to have read this far, here’s a bonus. I know you dream of another game (and another) after solving each day’s puzzle. Did you know there is an archive? Oh yes: 253 deliciously pristine Wordles! Here is the website address. You’ll want to bookmark this: https://www.devangthakkar.com/wordle_archive

Leave the papers on your desk, Nate! Dirty plates will have to wait! Tonight we are going to party!

Bill Hagen is a retired OBU professor. He lives in Shawnee with his cat. Contact him at [email protected]


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