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When Will You Learn That There Is Not a Word For Everything?

There’s a sticky note on my bulletin board that reads, “Soph: There is not a word for everything!”

handwritten sticky note saying \"Soph: there is not a word for everything!\"
Original photo by Sophia Apteker

It’s tacked among other sticky notes and scrap paper in a haphazard patchwork of thoughts, between phone numbers, due dates, class syllabi that I haven’t referenced since printing them at the start of the semester. I keep important things posted up there in an effort to keep myself grounded. To stay focused. To remind myself of things I may have otherwise forgotten. And my newest note is no exception.

I wrote it a few days ago, but the thought itself was prompted by a cumulation of several events.

The most recent instance was last Sunday. I was driving past the local YMCA with a friend, and we were talking about how swimming there somehow hits different (because it does). Then he started to describe the ambiance of the environment, or rather, he attempted to. I mean, there’s something about the light there, the way it filters through clouded window tiles. He struggled to find the words that would perfectly paint that specific atmosphere, and after attempting several start-and-stop sentences, I couldn’t describe it quite right either. But since we both knew what we were talking about though, we just let it go.

Then, the other day, there was an image on my VSCO that struck me when I was scrolling through my feed. (Yes, I was stalking myself.) It was a cropped screenshot from Genius lyrics that had supplemented my Spotify listening experience a few years ago.

Genius lyric screenshot on VSCO with Empire of the Sun quote
Sophia Apteker from Genius lyrics

From January 17, 2018 the post reads: “Sometimes trying to explain what a song is about spoils the beauty—it rips your heart out painting it black and white.”

There is truth to this Empire of the Sun quote. Maybe some songs speak for themselves. After all, examining minute details under a microscope can ruin the way that the project is perceived, which is in its entirety, not scrutinized fragments. Just like the pool at the YMCA, the in-depth descriptions weren’t necessary to form an appreciation for the beauty that just was.

I used to think that the only way that I could produce excellent writing was by having a wide vocabulary overflowing with large, extravagant words. In my mind it was mathematical: superfluous language would equate to great work. But this was like thinking that I could only be good at basketball if I had the most expensive shoes on the market. Sure, the high-quality shoes would help my game, but I couldn’t depend on my footwear alone to make me a top-notch player. There was training and practice, and weaving those elements into my greater knowledge of the sport. At some point, I — the player or the writer — would have to take ownership and accountability of my own performance. I could use my tools —  the shoes or the words — to assist me in my journey, but these singular factors would not guarantee success.

And you may be thinking to yourself, “Okay Soph. We knew this and you’re late to the party. What is the point that you’re getting at?” (Which is entirely valid.)

In short, you can be a great writer or communicator without having the best words. This is something that I am still grappling with. It doesn’t mean that if things are difficult to describe I will succumb to my limited vocabulary and call it a day. No, I still plan to drill my brain for the most fitting word or phrase, and when writing, I will continue to subject myself to an intensive revision process so that I can put my best foot forward.  But in this effort, I also understand that maybe there isn’t a singular best word, and maybe a combination of a few more common words, or even no words at all, may also suffice.

It is something that I will keep reminding myself.

Sophia Apteker

U Mass Amherst '23

Sophia is the former editor-in-chief of the UMass Amherst chapter. She is double majoring in journalism and integrated marketing communication. When she's not laughing at her own jokes, she can be found curating niche Spotify playlists that make her feel like the main character.