Words & Stuff

o: Words of Just One Beat

(13 April 1997)

This week's screed is writ in words of just one beat. I used to call such words "words of just one part," but a friend whose name I can't say in one beat set me straight. "Just one part," as he said, sounds like it means "just one piece of a word." (Oh, dear -- now I have to say what I mean by "piece of a word." A word is made up of parts: a stem, plus parts tacked on the front, plus parts tacked on the back, plus parts that mean "more than one of the thing" or "past tense," and so on.) I think that few but those who read and write of the ways we say things would think "part" meant that kind of part when used this way, but one should strive to use the best word for the job when one can. And "beat" is a good short word to stand in for the long word (three beats!) that I use it here to mean. And if I use "beat," not "part," that makes it clear that I don't mean the small parts that are used to spell words -- that is, the glyphs of a tongue.

Though folks oft use a phrase like "can you tell me in words of one beat?" to mean "can you say that in a less hard to grasp way?", it seems clear from my tract here that to use such words can make what I mean more hard to grasp, not less. If I have to talk 'round the point to keep out words with more beats, you may take some time to see what I mean to say. But such is life.

You may want to try to speak with friends in words of just one beat. If so, try to do so as fast as you can, with no slips. And try not to sound strained; don't use a phrase (if you can help it) that you would not use in speech if you had your full word hoard at your use. It can be quite tough to talk this way. I'm still not great at it, though I've tried this for years (on and off); there's a phrase or two up there that takes the long way 'round, to be sure.

Those who speak the tongues of far lands (far from where I am, I mean) may wish to try this game in those tongues. It would be trés hard to say much in words of one beat in the tongue they speak in the land where the sun is said to rise; in that tongue, each beat has a glyph (at least, that's one way to write their words). It might be that it could be done, though; I don't know much of that tongue.

You could try to write verse with this sort of words. It might be hard to not write dull things like "the cat sat on the mat" in that form, but the verse with words of three glyphs shows that it can be done.

When you talk or write like this, I feel you should strive to use words that are as long as may be (in terms of glyph count, that is). The least short such word I know of is "strengths." Note that not all "short" words have just one beat; there's at least one word of three glyphs that has two beats. (I bet there are some rare words of two glyphs that have two beats, too, though I don't know (off the top of my head) what they might be. I would not count a pair of glyphs that stand for a long word -- if a word cuts out a glyph or two at the start and marks it with a mark like a quote mark, that's one thing, but if the "word" cuts out lots of glyphs and ends with a dot, it does not seem quite fair to count it.)

It can be hard to make sure that you don't use words with more than one beat. You can run code to check that all your words are spelled right, but not to check the beat count. And some words look like they have more or less beats than they in fact do. So if I've missed a beat (as it were) and a word you've just read here has more than one beat, then I ...apologize.


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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>