An encounter with a fellow wordsmith


A lexicon connoisseur’s a nerd

The electoral choices absurd

But I went out to vote

And met someone to note,

A fellow smither of words.

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, travelled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I went back to adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system I can get along with. A winter in Nome, Alaska, assignments in rural Iowa, a summer with a bike tour in Michigan, and Urgent Care in suburban Pennsylvania stretched into the fall. Since last winter I’ve worked in Alaska and western Nebraska, and taken time to deal with my wife’s (benign) brain tumor.  I just returned from a moose hunt in Canada.  Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission. 

Bethany and I went to vote early, as my work will take us out of town on Election Day.

No one I know, conservative or liberal, likes the presidential choices. I have made jokes about needing to take Zofran (a powerful anti-vomiting drug) before casting my ballot.

Though late in the season, construction still dominates Downtown, with the Courthouse parking blocked off by heavy equipment.

Two deputies manned the metal detector and access to the polling place. They found and held the discreet 1- inch pocket knife on my key chain.  I didn’t give them a hard time, though I thought such a precaution silly.

With one exception, I didn’t like any of the choices on the ballot. But I found the name of a former patient, someone I know to have personal integrity and strength of character, and I blackened that circle with sincerity.

When I turned in my ballot, I looked at the desk in front of the poll watcher.

“It’s not very often you see print dictionaries, anymore,” I said.

I like dictionaries. I have a lot of them, more than a dozen, some better than others.  The elite, the Oxford English Dictionary, stands as a paragon of scholarship but even the microprinted edition weighs 25 pounds.  I will use it, if allowed, in a knock-down, drag-out Scrabble or Boggle game, though the people who have played with me bar such reference material.   If someone wants to play a word game with me and specifies a dictionary, I check it for two words.

A zarf is a cup holder; silver in ancient Persia, and plastic in Mr. Coffee installations. The f word, arguably the harshest verb and most overused pragmatic particle in our language, sits as a glaring black mark on our linguistic landscape.  If I use a dictionary, I want it to have a bigger and more honest vocabulary than I do.  If it lacks those two words, I do not recognize its validity.

I didn’t check her dictionary. But I asked if she needed it for her poll registration work.

No, she said, she’s writing a poem. She has a lot of dictionaries, including rhyming dictionaries and thesauri.

I told her I write limericks, and she looked impressed. I’ve written so many by now, I told her, that sometimes I speak in limericks.  And I asserted that limericks don’t qualify as poetry.  I didn’t mention that I’ve developed a rhyming algorithm so that I don’t use a dictionary to help me.

Poetry, the language of indirection, says something by saying something else. Limericks exist for wit and involve cleverness rather than real word artistry.  In a hurry, I can produce a limerick in less than a minute, and I never need more than five.  A good poem, however, will take me at least an hour and involve physical sweat.

But we had a lively discussion on wordsmithing, and what it means to be a writer. I invited her to read my blog, and asked her permission to write about the conversation.

In the end I told her I show kindness to my readers: I keep my posts to about 500 words, I treat modifiers with an ax, and I eschew the passive voice.

And she understood me.

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2 Responses to “An encounter with a fellow wordsmith”

  1. Leo Hammond Says:

    Hi Doctor. Just setting here enjoying your posts and thought I would respond. Have a great season and keep writing

  2. Tim Potter Says:

    Really enjoyed this one. Books on a college campus are even passe; our bike books in our shop library have rarely had other fingers on them in the 10+ yrs. we’ve been operating, sadly.

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