The Hidden Power of Words:
I’ve been enjoying some Scandinavian literature.
Child, Youth, Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen and Miss Iceland by Audur Ava Olafsdottir.
But much as I highly recommend both books, it’s not the books that I want to write about here.
I want to write about the word coffee.
They drink a lot of coffee in these books. As the narrator in Ditlevsen’s book says,
I’d never had or made tea before. I thought to myself that rich people drank tea and poor people drank coffee.
In both books, the word coffee is plentiful; Ditlevsen’s characters make coffee when they have nothing else to do — a bit like the British make tea. In Olafsdottir’s book, the narrator, Hekla, wants to be a writer, and she haunts the cafe where poets hang out and drink coffee.
Seeing the word coffee so frequently reminded me of what Virginia Woolf said about words and their power of suggestion.
She used the example of Russell Square:
… besides the surface meaning it contained so many sunken meanings.… suggested the rustling of leaves and the skirt on a polished floor; also, the ducal house of Bedford and half the history of England. Finally, the word ‘square’ brings in the sight, the shape of an actual square combined with some visual suggestion of the stark angularity of stucco.… thus… rouses the imagination, the memory, the eye and the ear — all combine in reading it.
Probably because of reading Woolf’s comments, I became aware that the word coffee was having an unconscious effect on my brain. I brought that effect to consciousness.
Coffee, I realised, has to be one of the most sensory of words.
Coffee, on the page, brings a rush of attendant sight, smell, taste, sound and touch associations. The dark brown of the liquid, the aroma of roasting…