Was it like that for you as well, when you were at school? Words lived. They had histories, back-trails to ancient Greek rhetoric or Roman sensibility, to mediaeval French farms, soggy lowland water-meadows, absurd colonial rituals. They sang, they danced, with their own characteristic rhythm and energy. You could play with words, write stories, compose poems, tell jokes, formulate riddles, act them out, set them to music. And you could read them, voraciously.

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