The Creative Exploration of Language


I recently came across a relic of my childhood that I had forgotten: the ridiculous commercial extolling the virtues of cheese that I have always thought of as “Hanker for a Hunk o’ Cheese”.  When I watched the video on YouTube I was transported back to the early 80’s in a way that I found a bit startling.  As far as I can recall, this was the most commonly played commercial during Saturday morning cartoons.

Beyond the memory shock and amusement of seeing the commercial again, I got thinking about the word hanker and what it meant.  As with many of the words that I end up exploring, the meaning of hanker, “to desire” or “to want”, is clear to most native English speakers, but it gets used rarely and generally only in specific contexts.  In this case, that context is related to food or drink.   In other words, hanker seems at first glance to be a variant form of hunger, but with a clear twist that is worth exploring.

When I looked into it, I found that the word represents a nice poetic metaphor for unfulfilled desire.  Hanker comes from the Dutch word hankeren, meaning “to hang”, while the Dutch word for hunger is honger.  The fact that the two words are so closely related makes the metaphorical aspect of hanker clear.  To hanker for something is to be tormented or punished by the lack of something.  This connection between hanging and lacking can also be used in more mundane contexts, such as in the phrase, “I left him hanging.”

I particularly like the symbolism of hanging, as this is often equated with an initiatory ordeal that involves deprivation and suffering, following which the person undergoing the experience receives special status or knowledge.  A few diverse examples of this that come to mind are the symbolism associated with the Hanged Man tarot card, Odin hanging on the tree Yggdrasil for nine nights without food or water in order to obtain the runes and the tribal initiation ritual undergone by Richard Harris’s character in the film A Man Called Horse.

In the end, I’m guessing the makers of the commercial chose to use hanker for simple alliterative purposes and because it fit with their vision of the commercial’s Wild West setting.  That said, now that I have thought through the more subtle meaning of the word, I find its use even more amusing.

But was the campaign successful in its main mission?  The answer, I think, is both yes and no.  I like cheese just fine, but I don’t hanker for it.


New Poem in Eternal Haunted Summer

I just wanted to let everyone know that I have a poem in the Spring Equinox edition of Eternal Haunted Summer.  It is called “Through Blood, the Knowledge.”  Please check it out.  I hope you like it.

As always, thanks for reading.

SR Hardy

New Story in Upcoming Anthology

I’m happy to announce that my short story “The Thin King” has been accepted for publication in the upcoming anthology Les Cabinets des Polythéistes: An Anthology of Pagan Fairy Tales, Fables, and Nursery Rhymes.

The anthology is being edited by Rebecca Buchanan and published by Bibliotheca Alexandrina, with an expected release in Winter 2016.

I’ll update with another post once it is released.

Thanks for reading,

S.R. Hardy


Wink is a word that recently got my attention when I encountered it in German, where, in verb form as winken, it means “to wave” or “to beckon”.  I found it interesting that these two meanings, while not literally the same as in English, do seem to express an underlying idea that is similar to that expressed by the English word.    

For instance, a wave is something that is intermittent; think of the peaks and troughs of a wave in the physical sciences, or the back and forth movement of the hand.  In addition, a wave of the hand is generally viewed as a friendly and welcoming gesture, and to categorize it in some instances as a form of beckoning wouldn’t be going too far; think of a phrase like “they waved him over”.  In both examples, one can see the connection between the use of the word wave and concept of an intermittent action.  In addition, the act of waving is connected to the concept of attraction, of establishing a connection with another person and drawing them into one’s orbit.

Getting back to wink, when we use this word in English, we think of a short opening and closing of the eye, reinforcing the connection to the concept of being intermittent.  In addition, the connotation of beckoning is present in English as well in that a wink is generally something that is used to attract another person, whether sexually or simply to pull the person into something and make them complicit.  

All this thinking about wink brought to my mind the fact that the Dutch word for store or shop is winkel.  This is interesting because by utilizing the w-n-k consonant root that seems to be a feature of the Germanic languages for a place that sells goods to consumers, the Dutch word seems to suggest that a store is engaging potential customers actively, by waving, or beckoning to them.  In English and German the corresponding words (store and laden, respectively) are passive and appear simply to be borrowed from other domains related to the piling up of supplies, military or otherwise. 

In the end, wink is a good example of what I find so interesting about language families.  From one basic root (in this case the consonant cluster w-n-k) numerous permutations and meanings can be derived and, much like human families, different aspects of the underlying root are brought to the fore in each language within the family.   

New Poem in Eternal Haunted Summer

I’m pleased to announce that I have a poem in the new Summer Solstice 2015 issue of Eternal Haunted Summer entitled “The Snake and the Kettle.”  It is a retelling of Thor’s journey to find a kettle to hold the ale for the Aesir’s feast, which includes his famous battle with Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent.

Please check it out.  I hope you like it.

S.R. Hardy

The Trouble with English


Occasionally, when I am struggling through a non-English text, it occurs to me just how nonsensical my native language truly is.  I don’t mean it, however, in the way that this comment is usually made, in relation to the many irregularities in the way English words are spelled and conjugated.  While I do find these issues annoying, they can be mastered through simple repetition.  What truly frustrates me about English is the chaotic relationship between sound and meaning.

Due to the heavy influx of non-native words into English over the course of its history, a large percentage of our vocabulary has been standardized in a way that does not give a hint, either explicitly or implicitly, of its deeper meaning.  For instance, what does the words surprise mean?  This is a common word and most people would not be at a loss for an answer to my question.  But what if I persisted on going one level deeper by pointing out that surprise is made up of two distinct parts, sur– and –prise.  What do those parts mean?  This question is not easily answered by anyone who lacks a strong knowledge of Latin.

These are questions that native speakers of German would generally not need to ask themselves.  In German, the word for surprise (in noun form) is die Überraschung.  This word also breaks down into two parts, über– and –raschung.  However, to a German speaker, the individual parts of the word have meanings that are understandable or at least potentially so: über means “over” and raschung is part of a complex of words beginning with rasch– or ras– that all imply something like a “quick, intense disturbance”.  Other such words are:

  • rasch- “quick”
  • rascheln- “to rustle”
  • rasen– “to rave” or “to rage”
  • rasend– “terrific” (in the sense of “intense”, e.g., a terrific thirst)
  • der Rasende– “maniac”
  • die Raserei– “fury”

This connection appears to hold even when the first vowel is altered to the au diphthong, as evidenced by the words below:

  • der Rausche– “intoxication”
  • rauschen– “to roar” (if water), “to rustle” (if woods), “to hiss” (radio)
  • das Rauschgift– “intoxicating drug”
  • rausfliegen– “to be chucked out”
  • räusspern– “to clear one’s throat”
  • rausschmeißen- “to chuck out”
  • der Rausschmeißer- “bouncer”

It is not my contention that the average German speaker consciously considers these other words or concepts when hearing or using die Überraschung, but I do believe that there is a subconscious effect.  What I mean here is that the connotations of quickness and intense disturbance become imprinted on the mind of German speakers such that when they hear the particular combination of sounds that are present in a word like die Überraschung, a subtle impression of the sense carried by the entire complex of words is brought to mind.  It doesn’t seem to me that surprise can generate the same web of related images and impressions for an English speaker.  This is because the word has only an explicit meaning, at least to non-Latin speakers, which is nearly everyone.

To give an even more direct example, the English word secret is derived from the Latin secretus, meaning “hidden”, and is nearly isolate in the English dictionary.  The only similar word that comes to mind is secrete, which has a very different meaning from secret, though both ultimately find their source in secern, which means something like “to sift apart”.  I might render this in modern terms as “to compartmentalize”.

The German word for secret is das Geheimnis, which clearly contains the word das Heim, meaning “home”.  In German, therefore, a secret is something which is kept within, or not talked about outside of, the home.  The connection between these two words is clear and direct in a way that simply doesn’t exist for an English speaker encountering the word secret.  This isn’t to say that English words derived from a foreign source cannot generate a complex of related meanings, but rather that when it is able to do so it begins from a point of limitation (because there are fewer words that share its sound pattern) and confusion (because the constituent parts of the word are not clearly understandable), which limits its possibilities in this regard.

This distinction between the explicit and implicit meanings of words reminds me of Alfred Korzybski’s well-known formulation “the map is not the territory”, which was also much discussed by Robert Anton Wilson.  Through this lens, the explicit meaning of a word is the map, which is a utilitarian tool for gaining information on a subject, but nothing more.  The implicit meaning of a word would then be equivalent to the territory, the relatively boundless space that is represented by the map.

What I like bout the map-territory metaphor is that it makes clear that the difference between the two is experience.  For example, looking at a map of Sweden can give you certain information the country, but actually being there and hearing the sounds, smelling the smells and seeing the architecture and the life of the people allows you to feel Sweden, and, I would argue, to begin to understand it.

Here lies the trouble with the English language, in my opinion.  Due to its varied etymology, its system of implicit meaning is discordant and largely broken because it lacks consistent connections between sound and meaning.  This has a detrimental effect on the experience one has when using the language, as one is not able to access the web of connections that would be provided by a more consistent etymology.

What do you think?  Do you agree?  What other languages do you know and how are sound and meaning correlated in that language?

Please let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading,

S.R. Hardy


New Poem in Eternal Haunted Summer

I have a new poem in the Winter Solstice issue of Eternal Haunted Summer, called “Faith, Like a Plague”.  Check it out.

Thanks for reading,

S.R. Hardy

New Poem in Eternal Haunted Summer

I’m pleased to announce that I have a poem in the Autumn Equinox 2014 issue of Eternal Haunted Summer called “My Own Hermopolis“.  Please check it out.

Thanks for reading,

S.R. Hardy


Beginning is a common word that, like many such words, hides a deeper, more profound origin.  In fact, beginning is such a fundamental word that it is difficult to formulate a definition for it without resorting to a form of the word itself.  That said, something like the following might be acceptable: a beginning occurs when something is brought from a state of non-being to a state of being.

When considered from this perspective, the true nature of the word begins to shine through.  This nature can most effectively be uncovered by asking the question, “How do I bring something from a state of non-being to a state of being?”  There are a number of potential responses to this question that spring to mind, but all of them can ultimately be boiled down to the idea that every beginning stems from an act of dynamic creativity.

This connection between the word beginning and the concept of dynamic creativity is reinforced when one breaks down the word into its constituent parts, as below.

First is the prefix be-.  I have discussed the use of this prefix in a previous post about the word bewildered, so here I will simply point out that it is cognate with the German prefix ver-, and is generally used to indicate a sudden shift or intensification of perception.

Second is the crux of the word, –ginn.  While it stands alone within English (can you think of any other words with –ginn in them?) it does have very similar cognates in other Germanic languages (Old English beginnan, Old High German biginnan, Dutch and German beginnen, Norwegian begynne, etc.).  In all these cases, -ginn seems to be related etymologically to yawn, and to have the literal connotation of “opening up” or “gaping widely”.

This meaning, in combination with the resemblance in sound, made me think of the Ginnungagap of Norse mythology, the “yawning void” or the “magically charged void” out of which the world began.  The latter interpretation comes from the use of ginn- in Old Norse, where it is used as an intensifier to mean “great”, “holy” or “magical”.

So, putting the word back together, we arrive at a poetic meaning for beginning that is something like “an act of dynamic creativity that causes something to suddenly appear out of the void of potential”.  This definition of the word appeals to me because it keeps front and center the idea that creation is a mystery, an unexplainable spark that feeds off the fuel of potential to light up the world.



New Poem in Mythic Circle #36

I’m happy to announce that I have a new poem entitled “Odin Wins the Mead of Poetry” in issue #36 of Mythic Circle.  It tells the story of Odin’s infiltration of Suttung’s mountain lair and the deal he strikes with the giant’s daughter to gain the mead.  As with my other narrative mythological poems, it is written in fornyrðislag meter.

Copies of Mythic Circle can be purchased from the journal’s website.  Please check it out and buy a copy to support the publication.

Thanks for reading,

S.R. Hardy