I’ve often wondered if it’s accidental that fact and fiction share consonants. Oh, the vowels are completely different, and fiction ends with that trickster consonant n, but don’t let that fool you. Things aren’t always as clear cut as they say.
In some languages, I’ve been told, the meaning of a word lies in its root. My friend Steve once told me that Hebrew words have “triliteral roots.” That is, words based on the same three consonants, in that order, are closely related. You can make a noun into a verb by taking the root and changing the vowels. Maybe something similar is going on with fact and fiction.
Jorge Luis Borges, I have to confess, hasn’t appeared in my reading as much as he should. Many of his story revolve around the indeterminacy of words. They change, they shift, they mean something we didn’t mean for them to mean. And he sometimes uses Hebrew as an example.
I don’t read Hebrew—English is difficult enough, thank you very much—but I wonder if Borges, and others, aren’t onto something here. The language you think in determines what you write.
I once had a dream in French. I’ve never studied French and I don’t speak it. At the time of the dream I’d seldom heard it spoken. In the dream I knew it was French and when I awoke the sounds were consonant with the little I knew of the language. Maybe our hardware includes the Rosetta Stone. All we have to do is tap into it.
I’ve often played with the idea of writing using nonsense words. Dr. Seuss was a master at pulling that off plausibly. Those who speak in tongues might have an advantage here. Still, words don’t always mean what we think they do. Those of us who write fiction know that words tame us, not the other way around.
So is it fiction or fact? Can anybody really know?