Dispatches | December 05, 2006
In Praise of Words
I stayed home a day or so ago. My son had a fever, so I worked quietly on editing two stories that were a delight to take a pencil to. There wasn’t much to pencil. Both authors have nearly perfect linguistic pitch; both use the language for all its worth. Both are appearing in our next issue, and I will tell you who they are sometime down the road. One we have published before; the other is a newcomer to TMR. Each taught me a new word or two, and that made me happy.
I took a longer-than-usual bath that day because I didn’t have to make the commute. We don’t have a shower, just a very short tub, so I lay in the hot water with my knees bent up like a frog and looked at the ceiling, considering the words Parousia and fraught. Don’t ask why.
Both were familiar to me, but I was paying them new attention. The Parousia is the Second Coming; I’d heard it said recently in the context of Advent, which begins December 3. You know what fraught means. A situation is fraught, usually with something bad. If you said the two words out loud, you’d sense that one is desirable and the other not, even if you didn’t know what they meant. Parousia. It’s like Glinda materializing in Oz in a shimmer of sparkles (though admittedly, as with Glinda, there’s something potentially scary there also). Fraught is the winged monkeys.
Lying in the bathtub, I considered that fraught must be a past participle because taught is a past participle, and so are bought, caught, sought. So after I got out of the tub I looked it up. It’s from Middle English, the past participle of the verb “to load,” by way of Middle Dutch. It’s related to the word freight. I was very, very excited. Middle English! Middle Dutch! This is what some people do for fun. Then I looked up Parousia. It’s from a Greek present participle of the verb that means “to be present,” so the Parousia is the Being Present. I would not want to speculate on the theological implications of that semantic bit, but again, I was excited to know it.
Words are great. Words are awesome. Words are. . . the Being Present of conscious thought. Or something like it. Around the office we get excited about good works of literature all the time, but sometimes we ought to stop and look twice at what they’re made of and get excited again about good words.
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