Shift #42: Consider Frankenstein
Recently, I had a conversation with my daughter’s boyfriend Joe about the word, “ghoti.” “Ghoti” is an alternative spelling for the word, “fish,” that has been around since the mid-nineteenth century. It uses bits of letter combinations from other words that have the same sounds as the assorted parts of, “fish,” then strings them together for something that looks completely different but is still pronounced, “fish.” (See the New York Times 2010 article, Ghoti, by Ben Zimmer, if you’re curious.) Joe put forth the idea that no college instructor would question a student who uses, “ghoti,” instead of the standard, “fish,” in a college essay.
I politely disagreed. The choice to use a less-recognized form of any word is certainly open for examination. What is the deeper meaning of that writer’s choice? Why the need to use something not generally understood? There’s a fine line between flaunting obscure knowledge and solid choices that move a piece forward. I went so far as to call, “ghoti,” a Frankenstein of a word.
This morning, I was still thinking about that conversation. And Frankenstein. So, of course, I Googled, “ghoti,” for the second time this year, and found that I’m not alone in my Frankenstein reference for alternative spellings (see that New York Times article referenced above). Then I decided I needed to look at Frankenstein, the novel, again and downloaded a copy onto my Nook. I immediately forgot about the whole ghoti incident as I immersed myself not in Mary Shelley’s novel but, rather, the academic introduction in the version I bought. The introduction discusses Shelley’s life and influences, Romanticism, the origins of science fiction, feminism, and other assorted ideas.
By the time I looked up from my Nook, my thoughts had moved on to how we craft anything and everything. We have so many bits and pieces that we stitch together to make a piece of writing, a painting, a photo composition. The influences from which we draw for our work every single day are not always things we notice. Yet, one tiny thing, like an alternative spelling, can send us on a research expedition that ends up somewhere unexpected. Somewhere that offers an epiphany about our own creative process.
But only if we pay attention to the possibilities. Only if we follow the loose connections an a journey away from ourselves.
What small thing is lingering in your mind right now? Look it up. Follow the unexpected connections your mind makes.