• Oral Tradition and Internet Technology by John Miles Foley

tWords are the designated means of exchange in the tAgora, the default currency of the textual marketplace. More to the point, given the control exerted by textual ideology over most aspects of our daily lives, tWords are customarily the only currency we hold and spend. Agoraphobia is so powerful that it’s hard even to conceive of any other communicative unit for our verbal transactions.

How are tWords defined? Chiefly in three ways: typographically, lexically, and linguistically.

Typographically, we identify and delimit text-bytes by inserting white spaces between them. It wasn’t always so, of course. Writing appeared on Day 346 of homo sapiens’ calendar year, with Gutenberg’s press arriving only on Day 363. For the 17 species-days in between, handwritten media varied wildly in their conventions about spacing, capitalization, lineation, and so forth. No surprise there, since there was no way of creating and enforcing any sort of broadly recognized standard.

Lexically, we define tWords by enshrining them in dictionaries and lexicons, customarily with supporting information about their derivation from other languages, their pronunciation, and their array of meanings. Dictionaries don’t hold still, of course, any more than languages do, and new tWords and new meanings are added with every new edition. But the latest official lexicon serves as the source and standard for establishing and maintaining the grand periodic table of elemental words.

Linguistically, we speak of tWords as linked closely to the morpheme, which Wikipedia defines as “the smallest linguistic unit that has semantic meaning.” In some ways the most fundamental of the three perspectives, this definition needs qualification in order to square up with the typographical and lexical definitions. First, only a free or root morpheme qualifies as a word in itself (the beat in un-beat-en, for example); the other two parts (un- and -en) are understood as bound or system morphemes, rather than words in themselves. Second, we’ll need to be aware that multi-morphemic units, such as the entire combination unbeaten, are not only possible but very common.

Within the textual arena, an inherently pathwayless environment, tWords contribute crucially to the relentless, one-way march from letter to letter, white space to white space, left to right (in most Western tAgoras, at any rate), paragraph to paragraph, page to page, chapter to chapter, and volume to volume. Trekking through texts, readers silently process a highly economical and just as highly restrictive code, following a predetermined map assembled not by a group but (usually) by a single individual. Variation within limits, the stock-in-trade of oWords and eWords, would be counterproductive for the item-based verbal transactions supported by the tAgora.

tWords work for the same reason that texts work – because they actively resist morphing.