Rodrigo Cortés publishes Verbolario, an act of love for the word


Ines Escario

Zaragoza (EFE).- The writer and filmmaker Rodrigo Cortés has published ‘Verbolario’, a surprising alternative dictionary with 2,500 definitions which is for him an “act of love” for the word and for the book. Carefully edited by Random House, “it can be seen with the eyes as well as the fingertips”. It took him seven years to compile it.

This compilation of words published daily on ABC accompanied by their “hidden meaning” gives way to “the poetic, the philosophical, the directly humorous, the irreverent and, above all, the fun”. This is how he explains it in an interview granted to Efe during his visit to Zaragoza.

Rodrigo Cortés, with his latest book, ‘Verbolario’. EFE/Javier Onion

Question: Your ‘Verbolario’ says that inspiration is a “yes in a desert of no”. How did you find it in over two thousand days?

Answer: If you wait for inspiration in general in the world of creation, you are dead. There are very rarely creative flashes that we steal from the environment and make our own. Most of the time it has more to do with pick and shovel. It’s an instinct similar to comedy, like when you get a ball and throw it back without knowing where it’s going or exactly how you did it.

Often what I do is turn on the radio or read an article, and I will hear voices that intuitively seem to me to have a particular potential or sound. I’m not looking for them to be definitive mottos, I’m worth both “demography” and “chair”. And when I’m 20 or 30, I sit down to have fun with them, to see what inspires me or what part of my brain they bounce off.

Over 2,000 “useless” words

Q: “Verbolario” is a display of “ingenuity”, a word you define as “a faculty cultivated by someone who lacks specific skills”. After movies like “Buried” or books like “The Extraordinary Years”, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

A: Yes, that’s me! And that’s why there’s room here for over 2,000 nonsense whose greatest merit is that it’s absolutely useless. The things that really matter to me are useless. And probably the greatest significance of Mozart’s Requiem or Beethoven’s Ninth, which I obviously don’t compare myself to, is not only that they don’t make sense, but that they serve no purpose, only to improve the world.

Q: The book is full of irony, “a figure of speech that stimulates demand for clarification.” Are you losing the ability to grasp it?

A: No, there are only very concrete and very specific people who lose the ability to want to capture it. But most people are strictly normal, and the world functions in a strictly normal way. Anyone’s WhatsApp is unpublishable and that’s a symptom of mental health and that you know you’re talking to people who know your codes and you’re safe.

Irony, on the other hand, literally defines a thing with its opposite, which ‘Verbolario’ mainly does, trying to access the secret or hidden meaning of things, which is almost always the opposite.

Lessons no one asks for

Q: And your book is also loaded with satire: “Realism Wrapped in Sandpaper. Do we now have a little thinner skin?

A: I insist no, we have very thick skin and broad shoulders. It is only certain representatives of the most public exposure, in the media or a handful of characters considered an elite of who knows what, who spend the day apparently giving lessons that no one has asked of them and to whom no one actually picks up. Not only do people handle irony well, they use it constantly, and humor is an integral part of everyone’s life.

“Humor is an integral part of everyone’s life”

Q: You say that writing is “sowing a dry field in the hope that someone will water it.” What has writing given you?

A: It’s an inescapable and inalienable form of expression that has been dear to me since almost childhood. I love language, I love words. From a very young age I felt a strange sensitivity towards them, I broke them down to find out which parts made up the machinery, I intuitively accessed their etymology and very quickly I realized that with a difference of one millimeter in issuing a message it was a detour of ten meters on arrival. Personally, there is no camera without a pen or a pen without a camera, I cannot express myself without resorting to both and at the same time I do not confuse them.

Rodrigo Cortés, with his latest book, ‘Verbolario’. EFE/Javier Onion

Q: Now, the 2,500 words already have a fixed residence, this book. What did you think of the result?

A: I received the proposal to publish the book a few years ago, but it seemed to me that a solid body of work had to be accumulated before it deserved to be a book. After 7 years and over 2,500 definitions, it felt like it was time, but it only made sense in the form of a very special edition, which was not just an act of love for the word, but also for the book, even the book as an object

This is why this edition almost recreates school dictionaries, or herbariums, with this small format, this Dutch pulp binding, the canvas lining in which we walk the buds… In fact, it is a book that sees both with the eyes and with the yellows. Passing by that dry blow on the cover that gives relief to the letters, the two-tone edition, the illustrations like a 19th century engraving adapted to the present and the fabric divider that looks like a Bible or a traditional dictionary.

I’m so happy to see this come to fruition and to feel so supported by the publisher, because it took a lot of people to put a lot of love into it.

Edited by Isabel Poncela


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