Yes, I like accumulating things – judiciously, not wantonly – and I am disinclined to part with my treasures. I have an indeterminate number of books, but anyway more than there is room for, especially merged with my wife’s equally prodigious and constantly growing collecting; I have nearly a thousand CDs and no more room for new ones, so now I buy on iTunes; I have about a dozen cameras, about as many lenses for the ones that can take different lenses, and thousands upon thousands of photos stored up from them; I still have every email of any significance at all from the past sesquidecade; my section of the bedroom closet is packed like a Tokyo subway, but two thirds of them haven’t been worn this year or last; I have a dozen or so watches and two dozen or so ties; I have every issue of the Literary Review of Canada that I’ve ever worked on (nearly 20 years’ worth), and almost every issue of The Walrus since its first; I have a couple dozen bottles of liquor, but at least I finish those… gradually…
Aina thinks I may be a hoarder. But she’s the one whose clothes drawers erupt black fabric when she opens them, and she’s the one with more than a hundred books piled against the wall by her side of the bed. So.
I am not a true hoarder. A true hoarder is like this bloke I read about today, who incessantly accumulates old doors and window frames in his yard (click on the link just to see the pictures). It’s like this woman who died after a pile of her accumulated stuff collapsed on her. It’s like this person who had more than five dozen cats in a one-bedroom apartment.
Wait! Can you hoard cats? I know you can’t herd them. But are “crazy cat people” hoarders? Hoarding is for treasures, but inanimate ones, no? If I see a platoon of puddy tats, I’m more likely to think it’s a horde than a hoard.
Horde is not related to hoard, by the way. Horde comes ultimately from a Turkic word for ‘camp’. Hoard is a good old Germanic word that since the beginning of English (when it was hord) has been a noun for a collection of valuables laid away for future reference, and thence a verb for the act of laying them away. This word has been in the collection as long as there has been a collection.
English has increased its collection quite substantially since then, of course. We still have many of the oldest words, some of them at the bottoms of piles, some much worn from regular use, some brightened or bent over time – how does a gathering of treasures harden so it is heard as a bad thing, anyway? because it sounds like a hoary horror? – but we have accumulated an unmanageable treasury from our millennium and more of excursions and inventions. The English vocabulary is like Smaug’s gold-hoard (and the mot juste that’s on the tip of your tongue is its Arkenstone of the moment).
Is a word-hoard a bad thing? Robert Macfarlane seems not to think so; he glories in adding local landscape terms to his display cabinet. I don’t think so either, as my blog’s ton of word tastings (if they’re a pound each) attests. English may have an utter superfluity of words, but somehow we can always make use of one more to add just the right bit of flavour that was missing before. Unlike Scotch or Bordeaux, additions to your vocabulary are usually free and don’t occupy a lot of space.
I suppose excess words could collapse on you if you’re not careful with them. But really, my myriad of words is to me not so much a yard of dirty doors and windows (though words are, in their ways, doors and windows to the world) as a mewing mass of moggies waiting to be petted, to taste you with their sandpaper tongues, and to dig their tiny claws into you and your friends.