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A self-portrait at the moment it all went wrong.

So imagine you are six. You are in a classroom and today is “writing day”. The teacher strolls in, smiles, and unrolls the periodic table of elements that represent the atoms of everything you could possibly say, or think, or think to say. Everything is a compound of these elements. It is, as you know all too well, the alphabet. Words being lexical compounds of letters.

Sheets of paper are distributed. Waxy crayons peeled at the cuff. The lesson begins with “So this is an ‘a’, does anyone know a word that starts with ‘a’”? A giggling hush descends. The teacher continues, “apple, yes that’s right a-ppil. …

Bruce Thomas

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