Joe Mc Kay’s “Crazy About Words”
… toasting our language since 2003!
Mentally searching for an image that would serve to capture the feeling of this past fine Summer for me, I recalled spending afternoons at the beach on Long Island Sound watching fishermen net bait fish. It’s an activity that has endured without change for thousands of years. That image from this Summer could be used to illustrate a Bible story.
It also serves as a metaphor for how I gathered words here and there…
On vacation in Stonington, Maine, I attended a benefit concert of folk and fiddle songs by Archipelago, a group of four very talented musician/singers. Geoff Warner rendered a wonderful song he wrote, “Pronoia.” The word virtually jumped into my net! Geoff told me it was originally defined in the 70’s as “a state of mind” by John Perry Barlow, a longtime songwriter for Grateful Dead. Recently it was used by well-known horoscope columnist, Rob Brezsny, as his book title, “Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia: How All of Creation is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings.” I hope the song, the book, and the concept go viral. Our world needs more pronoia and less paranoia. Let’s spread the word! …“Pronoia” is not yet used by enough of us to make it into the dictionaries.
An enthusiastic participant in my “Poetry Appreciation” group presented “Travel” … “I should like to rise and go/Where the golden apples grow;” … from Robert Louis Stevenson’s collection, “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” I was carried back to my own youthful dreams of exotic experiences by the line, “swinging in a palanquin;” (pronounced pal-an-keen). This Javanese to Portuguese to English word is an East Asian covered litter, carried on poles on the shoulders of two or four bearers. By the time I was borne on one in Dacca, East Pakistan, (now Bangladesh) in the 60’s, I found it bumpier than a Checker on a Manhattan Street, and so labor intensive, I felt very uneasy. That’s how dreams sometimes go!
David Foster Wallace, in a 1997 review of John Updike’s “Toward the End of Time,” described the author as suffering from “ontological despair”… a feeling that there’s no worthwhile reason for being (based on ‘ontology’…the branch of philosophy that deals with being). The phrase was used to describe Wallace himself after he committed suicide in 2008 at the age of 46. I’ve long wondered if there might be a single word which could stand-in for that phrase, and this summer came across one that comes close in a 1923 Dictionary list of German words which have come into English: weltschmerz…world weariness.
“A Nation of Scofflaws” is the title of Part 2 of Ken Burns’ excellent mini-series “Prohibition.” Scofflaw… simply scoff+ law… has a nice quirky etymology…seems there was a contest in Boston in 1923 to come up with a word to define “a lawless drinker of illegally made or illegally obtained liquor.” Two of the 25,000 entries tied to win with the word we now apply to a person who willfully disregards any law. Example/confession: When I was taking courses at Baruch College in Manhattan in the 60’s and always late for class, I had a favorite tiny illegal parking space on Lexington Ave. The floor of my VW “Bug” was littered with dozens of unpaid parking tickets. I wonder if Ken would be interested in serializing “He Was A Hippie-Scofflaw.”
Much as I respect and love to taste artisanal cheeses, I was not aware of “the evangelical zeal….among hard-core fanatics of fromage.” As Brian Ralph, the “cave manager” at Murray’s in Manhattan explained in the NYT (10/5/11) affinage (a French word new to English) is the careful practice of ripening cheese. The affineur prevents many of the problems that can occur if the temperature and humidity are not just right and the cheese does not develop the proper mold. Needless to say, there are skeptics who feel it’s no more than a marketing gimmick, and parents who worry that their kids might aspire to be cave managers!
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