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old ladyA slightly bizarre but delightful thing happened to me yesterday.

An elderly lady I have known all my life stopped me in the street, saying she had something to ask me. She was frowning so hard that I did a quick inventory of what I might have done to displease her – not that I am in the habit of annoying old ladies, but you never know – and drew a complete blank… But no – it was nothing I had done.

In fact, “There is a word I need,” the elderly lady said. “A word you use for a place that is falling to pieces…”

After a few guesses, it turned out that what she wanted was “tugurio”, that is Italian for “hovel” – and just as quaint and uncommon in everyday conversation.

“Tugurio…” my old lady savoured the word a little, her frown clearing as she did. “Thank you, dear. I have Things to say to Someone, and I wanted to have the right word. And when I saw you, I knew you were the one to ask.”

And thus fortified with the right word, on she marched, with a warlike light in her eyes and a spring in her step. I have no idea who Someone may be – but I nearly feel for them. Mrs. R. is of the small-but-fierce variety, with a voice fit to pierce walls, and an iron will known to all the village. I would have dearly loved to see her pounce on her foe and spring “tugurio” on them.

But even without the fireworks, isn’t this a lovely story? The notion that the right word makes all the difference. That a good, old, slightly literary noun can be wielded like some kind of weapon. And that the local scribbler is the one to ask… Say what you will, but I find that this sort of faith in words and their power is enough to go back to write with a renewed joy in the craft.

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