Creatures at Play | David Wiley | Scene4 Magazine | June 2022 | www.scene4.com

Creatures at Play


The Art of David Wiley


Rascals, Lascars, and Scholars


For quite a few years my sister-in-law had been sending me a word game, or "puzzle," as they called it, from the New York Times magazine. The game consisted of a small circle with a letter inside it surrounded by a larger circle with a letter inside it, surrounded by a larger circle divided into six equal compartments, each with a different letter inside. Using these seven letters, and only these seven letters, you were challenged to make as many words of five letters or more as you could. Proper nouns were not allowed, nor hyphenated words or contractions. The letter in the center had to be used in every word.

When the pandemic came along, I found myself wanting more of these word games. But all I could hope for was one a week. So I made up my own word game, which is very similar to the New York Times version. In my game, you simply think of a word with seven different letters, no more, no less, and use the letters of that word, which I like to call the "seed word," or "breeder word," to make as many words as you can. My game is the same, otherwise, as the New York Times game, except that in my game you don't have to use a certain one of the letters in every word. Some seed words are, or course, more fruitful than others. I try to avoid using words with a "q"or a "z" or an "x." I try to think of seed words that have a preponderance of well-used consonants and vowels.

Some breeder words produce a surprising number of offspring. The word 'hectares,' for example, is a very prolific word maker. When I thought of the word 'scholar,' I could tell by looking at it that it too would be a good breeder. One of the words it produced was a word I had not seen or heard for decades. The only time I had ever encountered the word 'lascar' was while reading a Sherlock Holmes story as a teenager. It was the first and only time I have ever had a brush with the word. As soon as it popped up on my internal screen, I began recalling some of the details in "The Man with the Twisted Lip." One of the inhabitants of the house in the story was mentioned only as a "lascar," who lived in the shadows and was never described. I remember thinking that it might be a word invented by Conan Doyle. I also remembered having concluded that it was likely a word brought back from the fringes of the British Empire. Recently someone looked it up, and it turns out that a "lascar" is a sailor from India or Indonesia. No mention of him being a shady character, which was the impression I had while reading the story. For many years my subconscious had associated lascars with rascals.

Playing this word game has helped me discover quite a lot about the condition of my vocabulary. Words that had been hiding in the back of my word bank vault, behind Grandma's possibly gold bracelet, have been suddenly recalled to life. Having dredged up a lot of forgotten words, "miasma," "arcana," "inanition," and "plethora," to name a few, has not, however, given me the desire to use these words again. They have somehow crossed over into the realm of the obsolete.

Many of these words bordering on the archaic are perfectly good words that ought to be used now and then. But many of them do seem, at least to me, to be slowly moving into the realm of the archaic. Other words that have cropped up while playing the game, such as 'midden' and 'dolmen' are truly archaic, having lost their usage after the middle ages.

Whether or not my word game has any value other than the fun of it, certainly it is better than reading the dictionary. The forgotten words pop up in unexpected places, and for a moment I feel like I have run into an old acquaintance on the sidewalk. In any case, my word game has served as a breath of fresh air on the voyage of rediscovery.

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Scene4 Magazine - David Wiley | www.scene4.com

David Wiley painter-poet: graduate of U. Kansas; studied at Mexico City College and with artist Ignacio Belen in Barcelona. Widely traveled, he exhibits throughout California and abroad. Wiley has published two volumes of poetry: Designs for a Utopian Zoo (1992) and The Face of Creation (1996). Since 2005, Wiley has received large mural commissions in Arizona, Mexico and California. Wiley is a longtime contributor to Scene4: paintings, poems, meditations on art, creative non-fiction.
To inquire about his paintings, click here.
For more of his paintings, poetry and writings, check the Archives.

©2022 David Wiley
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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