My first indication that I was losing my vocabulary came years ago at work —I was middle-aged then—and I was telling our then-Graphics department about something I wanted printed on… I knew it began with a “p,” but all I could come up with was “partridge.” I didn’t say it out loud because (thank goodness) I realized it was not the right word. Eventually, probably only two minutes but it seemed longer, I sputtered “Parchment!” It scared me a little. I wasn’t even in menopause yet.
It’s not easy to be a writer who can’t always remember words. An online thesaurus is my pal, but I don’t use it for the maligned practice of coming up with fancier words to say simple things. I go to this trusty tool to find the word that I’m sure is in my head…someplace. I’ll be typing merrily along and suddenly I’m stumped. Let’s say I want to say something like mutilate, but I know that’s not the word I want. I’m confident there’s a word that’s a better fit—one that I use all the time. I just can’t bring it to the frontal lobes. So, assuming I can come up with a word that’s close in meaning, the thesaurus gives me a fighting chance. I may even know what letter it starts with—in this case, I’m sure the word starts with an “m.” But that’s as far as I can get, until the thesaurus offers up maim. Ahhh. That’s it!
Not being able to retrieve words can take its toll on the marital relationship too. When I want to say something to my husband, I use the handiest words available. Unfortunately, he can’t read my mind (although after all this time he should be able to accommodate my verbal affliction). So a typical conversation goes something like this:
Me: Can you get me the thing?
Me: You know, the thing, the round thing.
Me: The thing with holes…to catch pasta. The…strainer? Sieve?
Him: You mean the colander?
When I’m groping for a word that’s part of a request, he stares at me, a deer definitely caught in the headlights. He is not only confused but, being a helpful sort, he’s also frustrated. Sometimes his “What?” seems to be getting testier, not unlike the GPS lady when she needs to say “Recalculating,” for the fifth time.
While I'm desperately grasping at words, he may smile smugly. But I know we’ll have this kind of conversation in reverse later this evening. After all, he’s in his 60s too.