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One Word

Essays by Joel Brouwer, Albert Goldbarth, Brenda Hillman, Maureen N. McLane, Eric Ormsby, Cole Swensen, and Eleanor Wilner on their favorite word. Essays are from the anthology One Word, edited by Molly McQuade.

KANKEDORT.

Isolate, peculiar, rare, obsolete, it surfaces in the language only once, according to the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary: in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde.  "Kankedort": speculatively defined as a "difficult situation" by Larry B. Benson, editor of The Riverside Chaucer (OUP, 1987); further glossed in the OED as "a state of suspense; a critical position; an awkward affair."

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Solmizate

Solmizate: to sing any object into place. Most literally, it's singing by the syllables of the do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do sequence. That's all it may be, literally, but I happened to get introduced to the word with a slight error in it—one of those errors that is, in fact, an errancy, a wandering off from the beaten path, and, as with the "knight-errant," the "word-errant" also has something inherently noble about it. It is off on a mission to create more meaning in the world

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A (indef. article)

A selects one but implies many, and so casts a pall of anxiety over its noun. "I'm not sure I want a relationship," she says, and immediately I imagine her turning the pages of a gigantic catalog of relationships, debating which, if any, she might want.

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As(we like it)

                                                …so says Carol's email, as I ask her about as.  "As" does a lot of work without being noticed—

As is an adverb, "antecedent" or "relative," a conjunction, a preposition— a word that can precede, connect, be swallowed, used twice in the same phrase. As bright as gold (adverb). It can be stuffed into other words with great frequency and make itself solidly known in a multitude of material existences.

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Or

I don't have a single favorite word, but if I did, the supple conjunction or would figure high on my list. Of course, since it forms the first syllable of my surname, I could be accused of partiality. But in fact, I like and admire it for a score of reasons.

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Line

I am wondering about this request to say something about "a word." As a person of many words, I find the singular form of that noun somewhat daunting as a subject for thought. A word by itself seems to me like the proverbial lost ball in tall weeds. Where to begin looking?

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Verse

I'm remembering the farmer now. He's taken off his sword and belt and left them on a rock, and now he's laboring behind his sixteenth-century wooden plough (it may as well be ancient Greek, it's changed so little). As his stalwart horse is harnessed to the plough itself, the farmer is also—only a little more metaphorically—harnessed to his work.

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