Small Words
Word appreciation—some thoughts about writing

The beginning of this was a post to the unschooling discussion list.

For Christmas my husband gave me the first season of Saturday Night Live on DVD. Paul Simon hosted the second show. He just sang and sang and sang, as the format hadn't been settled to the modern musical-guest-does-two-numbers, one at 11:10 or so and one at 11:45.

Art Garfunkle came on to sing The Boxer with him, and they did a verse I didn't know. I couldn't understand the second verse so I went to google, but I thought the words were so simple and common it might be hard to find. I found it, though, with lots of commentary on the when and who and where of previous performances. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boxer But looking at that idea of the very common words, I saw the simplicity of the words, and the beauty of the ideas:

Now the years are rolling by me
They are rocking evenly
I am older than I once was
Younger than I'll be, that's not unusual.
No, it isn't strange
After changes upon changes
We are more or less the same
After changes we are more or less the same


You're older than you've ever been
And now you're even older...
And now you're older still.

Time marches on
And time is still marching on.

This day will soon be at an end
And now it's even sooner...
And now it's sooner still.

—They Might Be Giants



Smoke on the water
Fire in the sky

Sunshine go away today
I don't feel much like dancin'...


This was played on The Lyrics Game, and not only are most of the words very short, the rhythm and scansion of this line is glorious, if you can remember the tune to read along with it:
You say your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation
~ Billy Joel, "Only the Good Die Young"
Too often when people advise others on writing, whether it's a teacher or a parent or a friend, they recommend bigger, longer and more words. I think this is a mistake. Earnest Hemingway wrote (unfortunately in criticism of another author, but still...)
Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.

–ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Here from Bartleby's, Joyce Kilmer's poem which was a standard for schoolkids to memorize in the early 20th century in the U.S.: http://www.bartleby.com/104/119.html

119. Trees

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Kilmer was in his 20's when he wrote that, and then died in the first World War at the age of 31. Except for the word "intimately," and "poem" which is from Greek, way back, those words were in English since before there was an English—very ancient words. And yet they could be put into a new arrangement in the 20th century that would inspire and last.

Another Paul Simon song (written with Bruce Woodley) is full of ancient, small words. It was a #1 hit by a group called The Cyrkle.

I should have known you'd bid me farewell.
There's a lesson to be learned from this and I learned it very well
Now I know you're not the only starfish in the sea.
If I never hear your name again it's all the same to me.

And I think it's gonna be all right.
Yeah, the worst is over,
Now the morning sun is shining like a red rubber ball.

You never cared for secrets I'd confide.
For you I'm just an ornament, something for your pride.
Always running, never caring, that's the life you live.
Stolen minutes of your time were all you had to give.

And I think it's gonna be all right.
Yeah, the worst is over,
Now the morning sun is shining like a red rubber ball.

The story's in the past with nothing to recall.
I've got my life to live and I don't need you at all.
The roller coaster ride we took is nearly at an end.
I bought my ticket with my tears, that's all I'm gonna spend.

And I think it's gonna be all right.
Yeah, the worst is over,
Now the morning sun is shining like a red rubber ball.

"Ornament" and "confide" are newer English words ("newer" meaning hundreds of years instead of thousands). That is some fine use of Iron-Age words.
Marty told a joke in front of several people the other day and I laughed, and he reminded me I was the one who had told it to him. It was "What does a Grateful Dead fan say when he's not stoned?" "This music sucks!" (Just because I've heard it, and I had told it, didn't keep it from being funny. We got it from Ben Lovejoy.)

Perhaps the performances and recordings were unpolished, but some of the lyrics are sterling. So I've brought this as an example of simple Anglo-Saxon English and deep thought. I'm not sure whether the links will come through, but it's from http://arts.ucsc.edu/gdead/ agdl/atti.html and there's reference to a 14th century poem (among other things).

There's an article that was brought to the UnschoolingDiscussion list the other day, and I linked it and commented here. It's about wonder. So is this song. http://sandradodd.com/duckford/judgment

Sandra

"I have spent my life seeking all that's still unsung"
"Attics of My Life"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia

In the attics of my life
Full of cloudy dreams unreal
Full of tastes no tongue can know
And lights no eye can see
When there was no ear to hear
You sang to me
I have spent my life
Seeking all that's still unsung
Bent my ear to hear the tune
And closed my eyes to see
When there were no strings to play
You played to me

In the book of love's own dream
Where all the print is blood
Where all the pages are my days
And all my lights grow old
When I had no wings to fly
You flew to me
You flew to me

In the secret space of dreams
Where I dreaming lay amazed
When the secrets all are told
And the petals all unfold
When there was no dream of mine
You dreamed of me

Easier Said than Done
The Essex

My friends all tell me
Go to him, run to him,
Say sweet lovely things to him,
And tell him he's the one.

Deep in my heart I know it,
But it's so hard to show it
'Cause it's easier — easier said than done.

My buddies tell me
Fly to him, sigh to him,
Tell him I would die for him,
And tell him he's the one.

Although he gives me a feeling
That sets my heart a-reeling,
Yet it's easier — easier said than done.

Well, I know (I know) that I love him so.
I'm afraid that he'll never know
Because I (I-I) I get so timid and shy
Each time that I look him in the eye.

They all tell me
Sing to him, swing with him,
And just do anything for him,
And tell him he's the one.

I got a love so true
But I'm sad and blue
'Cause it's easier — easier said than done.


Glad All Over
The Dave Clark Five

You say that you love me
All of the time
You say that you need me
You'll always be mine

I'm feelin' glad all over
Yes I'm-a glad all over
Baby I'm glad all over
So glad you're mine

I'll make you happy
You'll never be blue
You'll have no sorrow
'Cause I'll always be true
And I'm feelin' glad all over
Yes I'm-a glad all over
Baby I'm glad all over
So glad you're mine

Other girls may try to take me away
But you know, it's by your side I will stay
I'll stay

Our love will last now
Till the end of time
Because this love now
Is only yours and mine

And I'm feelin' glad all over
Yes I'm-a glad all over
Baby I'm glad all over
So glad you're mine

Other girls may try to take me away
But you know, it's by your side I will stay
I'll stay

Our love will last now
Till the end of time
Because this love now
Is only yours and mine

And I'm feelin' glad all over
Yes I'm-a glad all over
Baby I'm-a glad all over
So glad you're mine

She's a Woman
The Beatles

My love don't give me presents
I know that she's no peasant
Only ever has to give me
Love forever and forever
My love don't give me presents
Turn me on when I get lonely
People tell me that she's only
Fooling, I know she isn't

She don't give the boys the eye
She hates to see me cry
She is happy just to hear me
Say that I will never leave her
She don't give the boys the eye
She will never make me jealous
Gives me all her time as well as
Loving, don't ask me why

She's a woman who understands
She's a woman who loves her man

some repetition of things above…

She's a woman, she's a woman
She's a woman, she's a woman


(From French, but 600 years or more ago: presents, peasant, jealous)

Surfer Girl
The Beach Boys

Little surfer little one
Made my heart come all undone
Do you love me, do you surfer girl
Surfer girl my little surfer girl

I have watched you on the shore
Standing by the ocean's roar
Do you love me do you surfer girl
Surfer girl surfer girl

We could ride the surf together
While our love would grow
In my woody I would take
you everywhere I go

So I say from me to you
I will make your dreams come true
Do you love me do you surfer girl
Surfer girl my little surfer girl
Well
Girl surfer girl my little surfer girl

("everywhere" and "together" are long, but they're native English compounds)

Your Cheatin' Heart
Hank Williams

Your cheatin' heart will make you weep,
You'll cry and cry and try to sleep.
But sleep won't come the whole night through,
Your cheatin' heart will tell on you.

When tears come down like fallin' rain.
You'll toss around and call my name.
You'll walk the floor the way I do,
Your cheatin' heart will tell on you.

Your cheatin' heart will pine some day
And crave the love you threw away.
The time will come when you'll be blue,
Your cheatin' heart will tell on you.


Annie's Song
John Denver

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again

Come let me love you
Let me give my life to you
Let me drown in your laughter
Let me die in your arms
Let me lay down beside you
Let me always be with you
Come let me love you
Come love me again

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again

_________
"Ocean" and "desert" are from Greek and Latin, and probably came into English very early ("desert" with the Bible). "Forest" and "senses" are probably from Norman French. Otherwise…. clean. _________

Black is Black
Los Bravos (I know it's inconsistent, but this one looked very cool centered.)

Black is black
I want my baby back
It's gray, it's gray
Since she went away, oh, oh
What can I do
'Cause I-I-I-I-I   I'm feelin' blue

If I had my way
She'd be back today
But she don't intend
To see me again, oh, oh
What can I do
'Cause I-I-I-I-I   I'm feelin' blue

I can't choose
It's too much to lose
My love's too strong, Woa!
Maybe if she
would come back to me
Then it can't go wrong

Bad is bad
That I feel so sad
It's time, it's time
That I found peace of mind, oh, oh
What can I do
'Cause I-I-I-I-I   I'm feelin' blue

I can't choose
It's too much to lose
My love's too strong, Woa
Maybe if she would come back to me
Then it can't go wrong

Black is black
I want my baby back
It's gray, it's gray
Since she went away, oh, oh
What can I do
'Cause I-I-I-I-I   I'm feelin' blue
'Cause I-I-I-I-I   I'm feelin' blue

Devil Woman
Marty Robbins

I told Mary about us,
     I told her about our great sin.
Mary cried and forgave me,
      Mary took me back again,
Said if I wanted my freedom
     I could be free evermore.
But I don't want to be,
and I don't want to see
     Mary cry anymore.

Oh, Devil Woman,
Devil Woman, let go of me.
Devil Woman, let me be,
And leave me alone.
I want to go home.

Mary is waitin' and weepin'
     down in our shack by the sea.
Even after I've hurt her,
     Mary's still in love with me.
Devil Woman it's over,
     trapped no more by your charms,
Cause I don't want to stay.
I want to get away;
     Woman let go of my arm.

Oh, Devil Woman,
Devil Woman, let go of me.
Devil Woman, let me be,
And leave me alone.
I want to go home.

Devil Woman, you're evil,
     like the dark coral reef.
Like the winds that bring high tides,
     you bring sorrow and grief.
You made me ashamed to face Mary
     barely had the strength to tell.
Skies are not so black,
Mary took me back,
     Mary has broken your spell.

Oh, Devil Woman,
Devil Woman, let go of me.
Devil Woman, let me be,
And leave me alone.
I want to go home.

Runnin' along by the seashore,
     runnin' as fast as I can.
Even the seagulls are happy
     glad I'm comin' home again.
Never again will I ever
     cause another tear to fall.
Down the beach I see
What belongs to me,
      The one I want most of all.

Oh, Devil Woman,
Devil Woman, don't follow me.
Devil Woman let me be,
And leave me alone.
I'm goin' back home.

You Really Got Me
The Kinks small (or forms of small) AND short!

Girl, you really got me goin'
You got me so I don't know what I'm doin'
Yeah, you really got me now
You got me so I can't sleep at night

See, don't ever set me free
I always wanna be by your side
Girl, you really got me now
You got me so I can't sleep at night






I Can't Stay Mad at You
Skeeter Davis

You can make me cry
You can break my heart
But I'll never say we're through
Even when I cry,
I can't stay mad at you

You can run around
You can tell me lies
But there's nothing I can do
I'll never say goodbye,
Cause I can't stay mad at you

  I got mad at you last night
  When you were holding another girl tight
  But when I thought of all your charms
  I bounced back in to your arms

One thing you'll know for sure
I won't be the one
To fall in love with someone new
I'll love you til I die,
And I can't stay mad at you


Note on YouTube (by catman916):

The month was September and the year 1963. Skeeter Davis' "I Can't Stay Mad At You," by the song writing team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, was inspired by Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do." It followed her smash hit, "The End of the World" and was another crossover success, peaking at #7 in 1963.

Shout a warning unto the nation that the sword of God is raised!", concerning the song "Pride of Man" by Hamilton Camp. The lyrics are there. My comment was:

Holy cow.

Except for maybe "terror," "repaid," "nation" and treasure" (give or take), Anglo-Saxon words.

Lo, it uses "lo"!

I've been collecting some things with "small words," and I'll link this from there.

He links video of a live performance by Jefferson Starship. Unfortunately, it's not on Project Playlist by Quicksilver Messenger Service (nor by anyone) or I would've added it to the playlist.
I got a note from Schuyler saying she liked my MySpace song. It's Red Rubber Ball, that I had quoted here as evidence of powerful writing with little Anglo-Saxon words. But the song I'd rather have, and used to have, on My Space, is Sister Hazel's "Change Your Mind." It's the closing song in the movie Bedazzled, which is one of the finest illustrations of self acceptance ever created, and I'm glad Kirby kept pressing me to watch it.

But I got to thinking about the lyrics of this song, and it is yet another example of big ideas stated in small words. There are two words I spotted on a once-through that aren't native Germanic, but both of them are used in idiomatic expressions (phrases that come whole), and so it's understandable. One is "state" and one is "seize" (I think Greek and Latin origins, respectively). There might be others; if you find any, let me know, but I think the rest are words that English's grandma had.

Hey, Hey
Did you ever think there might be another way
To just feel better, just feel better about today
Oh no-
If you never want to have to turn and go away,
You might feel better might feel better if you stay.

Yeah yeah
I bet you haven't heard a word I've said
Yeah yeah
If you've had enough of all your trying
Just give up the state of mind you're in

[Chorus] If you want to be somebody else,
       If you're tired of fighting battles with yourself.
       If you want to be somebody else
       Change your mind, change your mind.
Hey hey-
Have you ever danced in the rain or thanked the sun
Just for shining, just for shining o'er the sea?v

Oh no!
Take it all in—the world's a show,
And yeah, you look much better, look much better when you glow.

Yeah yeah
I hope you heard every word I’ve said.
Yeah yeah
If you've had enough of all your trying
Just give up the state of mind you're in

[Chorus]
Hey hey- what ya say we both go and seize the day,
'Cause what's your hurry, what's your hurry anyway?

Yeah yeah
I hope you’ve heard every word I've said
Yeah yeah
If you've had enough of all your tryin'
Just give up the state of mind you're in:

[Chorus a little different:]
       If you want to be somebody else,
       If you're tired of losing battles with yourself...
       ...change your mind.
       Get out of your mind, get out of your mind,
       Just close your mind.

      


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