The Lightning or the Lightning Bug - Susan Hunter

The Lightning or the Lightning Bug

  • July 14, 2021

I’ve written on the topic before, but it’s an endless source of amusement to me, so I’m sharing some additions to my husband Gary’s unique take on the English language.  

I like words, some just for the way they sound, rolling off your tongue. I like others for the nuances and delicate layers of meaning they convey. And I love to hunt for just the right word to convey what I mean in writing and in speaking. 

So, it’s one of those little jokes of the universe that I fell in love with a man who not only doesn’t search for the right word, he blithely makes up his own in order to get his sentences out as quickly as he can. At least that is the only reason I can find for the unintentionally hilarious way he pulls words out of thin air.

Sometimes the word he chooses is a close approximation of the actual one he needs. Once when I was struggling with the ending of the book I was writing, he offered these encouraging words: “Don’t worry. I know a Tiffany will come, and it will all work out.” I waited all day, and Tiffany did not show up to help me. Neither did an epiphany.

Occasionally, the word he chooses is vaguely related to the one a regular person would choose, but it takes some puzzle-solving skills to get it.  When I asked him who the owner of a horse that had won a major race was, he said he didn’t know, but he thought the owner was a combine. I know that a combine is a large piece of farming equipment, and I tried to work out how that fit in with horse racing. It took a few minutes, but I finally hit on syndicate —which is a group of individuals or organizations who combine for some purpose. Hence combine, and then it made sense—in a Gary kind of way.

One of my all-time favorite Garyisms is an old one. A friend said he was going to Las Vegas and wanted to see some shows. Gary responded, “Oh, you should see Sigmund & Freud, they’re really good.” Yes, that’s right. He meant Siegfried and Roy.

He presented a tougher word challenge when he told me about a TV show featuring high-end automobiles, and how expensive and amazing they were. He was most impressed by the Grandma Jenny. I said, “Gary, stop it. There can’t be a sports car called a Grandma Jenny.” He insisted it was that, or something very close, and then it came to me. A Lamborghini. When I offered that as a possibility, he readily agreed and didn’t really see how what he’d said was that far off.

An editor once shared this Mark Twain quote with me, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”  But honestly, if Gary were always on top of the right word, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun to talk to him. And a conversation with him is always entertaining.