Wherewithal? What the hell is that?

But since his aphasia Brother Dan has started using this mysterious word with some regularity.  I will ask him like what he thinks he will do and he says, depends upon the wherewithal or if I have the wherewithal.

It’s not that I don’t know what it means—wherewithal; it means having the means (including financial) or the ability or the capacity to do something or other.  But he doesn’t say means, capacity, ability or skills.  He says “wherewithal.”  I think his use of this rather uncommon and archaic word means something else too.  “Wherewithal” doesn’t mean simply having the means; but in its mystery suggests also some concern about not only not having the means or skills or abilities but also some concern as to what these skills, abilities, capabilities and means might be.

To get from point A to point B one has various means at one’s disposal: a car, a bike, a motor scooter, or feet.  Wherewithal points to the mystery or variousness of the means.  I think Brother Dan’s use of the term did not just start after his aphasia but is in part an attempt to encapsulate his relationship to his aphasia or of his self to the aphasia.  He knows he once had the means to get his thoughts directly and clearly out; he took those means for granted as we all do.  And we all do because really we don’t know and nobody does the means by which a thought or a notion or an idea gets from the head out into the air and into another person’s ear.  Because he doesn’t know the means he cannot either choose between whatever various means there might be.

When it comes to a malfunction or the simple functioning of the brain, the question of whether the means justifies the ends or not makes no sense at all, because without the means the end simply cannot come into being.

I speculate and speculate only that perhaps Brother Dan’s aphasia involves a mix up or an altered connection between the sound of a word and what it might mean as a means of communication.  Some of his writing has lots of puns in it; I think here of the old “there,” “they’re,” “their”—the same sound for three meanings.  Not that his puns are this dull, but where he means “dispel” he writes “distell.”  There is some connection here too with the issue of rhyming.  Some aphasiacs are able to remember and sing right through a song that rhymes; but can’t talk out a free standing improvised sentence.  So rhythm—the stress of the words is important too.

A good deal more than the pure conveying of meaning is involved in speech.  There’s also sound and the overlapping or potential punnings in that sound, there is rhythm (that comes more to the fore in speech arising from emotion) and occasionally there is rhyme as establishing a pattern for speech (that may also act as an aid to memory).  And at the other extreme, there is something like what I am trying to write here.  Speech stripped of all the elements that make it speech.

4 Replies to “Wherewithal”

  1. Dan, PLEASE don’t get over the “wherewithal”. It’s a great word that we just don’t hear enough of. Pay no attention to Nick – after all, what does HE know about the English language!! I’m going to track down a web site with other “archaic” words for you to use. I will if you will!

  2. Dan..no need to get over wherewithal…I like it and have taken to using it myself..
    Hi Jenny…I will be in contact later…Nick

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