The Oxford English Dictionary offers one full page on the word compose and over two pages on its forms (composition, composed, composer, composedness…).
Surprisingly, the word compose was used to refer to putting words on paper as early as the 1480s, yet wasn’t applied to writing music until the 1590s.
Compose comes to English from Latin through French. It’s made up of com- which means together & -posere, which means to place or put down. What I find most intriguing are the varied meanings of compose over the years. I love how they tweak my thinking about what it is to compose.
Here are a few from a very long list:
- to invent & put into proper form
- to arrange artistically
- to tranquilize
- to form words and blocks of words (to set type)
- to compound or to mix
- to settle, adjust or arrange
- to make seemly & orderly
- to lay out a dead body
Modern mystery writers take that last definition so seriously, they try to “lay out a dead body” in the first chapter of every novel. John Irving, Robertson Davies and their devotees really take the “to compound or to mix” definition seriously, getting some of their joy from weaving unlikely themes and topics together. There are days when any of us writers feel as though all we’re doing is forming “words and blocks of words” which we pray will have some value the following day.
On a more twisted note, a quick visit to Brendan's On-Line Anagram Generator produces six anagrams for compose, my favorite three being:
- cop some
- spec moo
- scoop me
And what kind of light does that throw on the subject?
Which shades of meanings appeal to you and your composing process? You'll find the portal to comments at the top of the post.
Thanks to this week’s sources, Brendan's On-Line Anagram Generator etymonline.com, the OED, & wordnik.com.
I write for teens & tweens, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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