I’ve made a life of words. Making up words, delighting in words: their sound, their meaning, their beauty. “Belly button,” for example. As a baby boy, I loved that sound. It made me laugh. It taught me to point to my own belly button. “Belly button.” That trochee: a long short, long short beat with two explosive consonants: “Belly Button.” I couldn’t say it without giggling. And because I knew what it looked like and where it was on my body, I could identify it if you asked me, “What is a belly button?”
Because that much knowledge was accurate, I was able to learn later, as I grew up, where the belly button came from. A whole human physiology could be built on my growing understanding of the funny two words I learned as a child. And no matter how deep or broad my understanding of “belly button” became, there was always a touch of humor in it. It was the perfect word: it named what it sounded and sounded what it named in utter childlike simplicity. The simple word is often the right word, the later complexity growing out of our own complexity as we evade, fear, temporize, equivocate, and lie about the meaning of words and therefore of what they name. Read more.