One of the most delightful things about keeping this blog is that I sometimes receive interesting packages in the post, usually of books to review, from authors and publishers.
Yesterday the postman delivered a large brown envelope that contained something particularly intriguing — and truly unique.
Once I ripped open the paper envelope I was greeted with a set of 10 flatpacked boxes resembling pharmaceutical packaging. Had someone unwittingly sent me their empty drug boxes? Was it a practical joke? Would there be a note inside telling me how I could fulfill my prescription?
Alas, no. The only things these boxes prescribe are a well developed sense of humour, irony and playfulness. Each one represents one of the English language's 10 "word-groups" — adjectives, adverbs, articles, conjunctions, interjections, nouns, numerals prepositions, pronouns and verbs.
I had to show Mr Reading Matters the contents straight away, because his mother was a pharmacist and I knew he would appreciate the concept. He didn't waste any time starting to put the boxes together until I told him to stop — I wanted to have a go too!
We both enjoyed reading the writing on the packages out loud to each other. "Keep Nouns in a dictionary, on a piece of paper, a shopping list, a wish list and well written within the reach of children." And: "Look at this one! Contains 66 pronouns!"
I just love the way they have the look and feel of real medicine boxes right down to warnings about side affects and dosage recommendations. (The standard dosage for conjunctions is "individual and determined by your need to integrate, coordinate or subordinate yourself or part of a sentence".)
But if that's not enough, imagine how delighted I was to discover that each box contains an instruction leaflet, so that you can learn how to use that particular word group.
For example, I had a lovely chuckle over the leaflet for "Adjectives® Contents: 238" which states:
1. What Adjectives® are and what they are used for
Adjectives® have no independent existence. This means that they, like all others, must find a Noun® or a name to latch on to. They are akin to ticks, fleas and other parasites. Or chameleons, clerics and politicians. Adjectives are there to add something. They say: Look, there's much more here than you think!
This isn't so much a book, but a kind of art installation in miniature, and it is, quite appropriately, called Wordpharmacy. The Berlin-based publisher Broken Dimanche Press describes it as both a "concrete poetical work" and an "exhibition".
This is one of those "things" — for want of a better word — that invites you to play with it, to hold the boxes in your hand, to read the leaflets, to chuckle over their contents but as you do so you also learn about the English language, its usage and its quirky elements. I suspect it's not supposed to be an English-language tool, but I can image anyone teaching English would find it useful to have in the classroom — it would certainly add a bit of sparkle to the lesson!
I quite like its play on the concept of language as medicine — or language as a kind of drug.
It was written by Danish artist and writer Morten Søndergaard, who seems to have made a name for himself doing new things with language — he's written poetry, plays and musicals, created recordings, exhibitions and installations — and twice been nominated for the Nordic Council Prize for Literature.
Wordpharmacy was translated by Barbara Haveland, designed by Christian Ramsø and supported by The Danish Arts Council Committee for Visual Arts and The Danish Arts Council Committee for Literature.
You can find out more about it on the publisher's website — and if you've got a spare €50 you can order a limited edition set in special apothecary box, or purchase individual boxes for between €3 and €5 each. It would make a quirky and unusual gift for any wordsmith — I know very many sub-editors who would love this lot!
My problems is where to store all the boxes. The medicine cabinet in the bathroom doesn't feel quite right...