In the blog I kept a few years back, I wrote under the pseudonym (and pseudo-personality) Baroness Buttercup. This is a post I penned after receiving an especially delightful gift from a good friend who always knew, and still knows, just the right thing to put under the wrapping paper. If you’re like me and you love fine words like some people love fine wines, this piece and the book it’s about should appeal to you.
The Gift That Keeps On Giving
What do you give the Baroness who has everything? Looking out across the rolling green hills of my barony and pondering the many treasures filling the rooms of my stately manor, that rhetorical question might turn intimidating. What indeed? Despite my vast wealth, collections of ancient artifacts, priceless jewels, rare art and mint, in-the-box Facts Of Life dolls, one person remains undaunted, undeterred and unafraid: my best friend, Gillette, a consummate giver of gifts.
Gillette is not her real name, but it is her real nickname; bestowed upon her by yours truly as an affirmation that she is and ever will be, edgy like a razor. And she calls me Flouncy because I say things like “I flounced out of the room” and she finds that delightful. Together, we think we’ve got the beginnings of a pretty good cop show: Flouncy & Gillette, a couple of crime-fighting females who aren’t afraid to break some rules or make a few dramatic exits.
In a recent example of her present-picking skills, Gillette gave me a copy of Endangered Words: A Collection of Rare Gems for Book Lovers by Simon Hertnon. While I love stringing and stacking words in precise patterns and will agonize over their order and whether they’ll be read with the right pace and cadence to achieve my intended effect, I also love a single word or phrase that perfectly captures an entire thought or idea — and thanks to Gillette and Mr. Hertnon I’ve learned that such a word is called a holophrasis.
For instance, it should come as no surprise to most people that there is some ambiguity when it comes to sexual identity. You may consider yourself totally straight, but your same-sex summer abroad back in ’93 lands you squarely in another person’s bisexual book. So what determines our sexuality? Is it based on physical attraction, or also on emotional bonds? How great a part do our past actions play? What about the fantasies in which we indulge or the erotica we enjoy? Do the number of encounters matter? What if we’re celibate?
We have a limited number of general labels and an infinite combination of people and their unique experiences, and trying to find easy answers bobbing around in a sea of such complexity is called aporia. The posts, the arguments, the raging debates, the gnashing of teeth, the rending of garments – all stem from this aporetic state of genuine confusion.
Does this word make labeling any easier? In a sense, I think it does. Because what it tells me, is that when the answer you’re looking for is so simplistic relative to the complexity of the question, that it is the very definition of the word aporia, you might as well just call off the search and go home. Let everyone just be who they want to be and quit worrying about it because finding the right label is a lost cause.
See what I just did there? I offered up a “can’t we all just get along” solution of the Rodney King-iest kind. That was me getting all irenical up in here! Because being conducive to or operating toward peace is something I do well. It’s true, my solution-finding skills are impressive. But I don’t need to tell you that, I need you to tell me that – and the more detail, the better. Tell me all the ways I’m good at what I do, shower me with compliments and I’ll be putty in your hands. Flattery, as they say, will get you everywhere, because I’m nothing if not elozable.
Why am I so susceptible to adulation? I would guess for the same reasons as anyone else – don’t we all wish to be concupiscible, to be worthy of being desired? The Oxford English Dictionary takes it a step further, defining the word as being “vehemently desirous.” And who could be more so than a woman who is both physically and morally beautiful? From the philosophers of ancient Greece a kalon, in French a bellibone and in Scotland a sonsy – a word which happens to come in quite handy when talking about the gift-giving Scottie hottie, Gillette!
I’m finding this book useful not only for its potential in adorning my writing with interesting new words but also in describing the writing experience itself. Who hasn’t had a certain word or phrase on the tip of their tongue, keeping them up at night, until they finally gave up and posted something almost perfect, only to have the right words come to them a yoctosecond after hitting the publish button? That shared experience is an afterwit following a somnifugous presque vu!
When that happens to me, I often vent my frustrations via lalochezia – the emotional relief gained by using vulgar or indecent language. A word that validates the need to swear like the bastard spawn of a drunken whore and a sailor on shore leave. An idea which recognizes that sometimes all you really need is a straight up mother-fucker with a cock-sucker back. Ahhh, that hit the spot …
Gillette can turn gift-giving into sprezzatura, the art of making the difficult seem easy. Knowing what a word-geek I am, she couldn’t have picked a more perfect present; and since receiving Endangered Words, I’ve been like the proverbial logodaedalus in a vocabulary store, drooling over etymology and stuffing myself with too many syllables. I could go on listing fabulous finds from its pages, but instead, I encourage you not to perendinate – go out and buy a copy so you can enjoy these tasty little word-nuggets for yourself!