Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Word Report

In EL DORADO, which we watched the other night, John Wayne uses the word "charivari" (variant spelling "shivaree"), a word I don't think has occurred to me since almost five years ago, as I'm sure you recall, when I encountered it in a Dostoevsky translation. Pretty fancy company, Duke! Words! I learned a new word from SABBATAI SEVI: THE MYSTICAL MESSIAH by Gershom Scholem: chiliastic. It DOES NOT have anything to do with especially delicious chili, as I originally assumed. Also in SABBATAI SEVI we meet "Nathan Shapira, chief rabbi of Cracow (died 1633)" (who, as a helpful footnote informs me, is "Not to be confused with the kabbalist Nathan Shapira of Jerusalem, who also lived in Cracow") - he once "presented one thousand explanations of the letter aleph in the first word of Leviticus." A thousand explanations of the LETTER, not the word! You might just say that Nathan Shapira of Cracow was the original "blogger," but don't. Don't say that. I found this bit of the book comforting somehow: "In a world of homiletical and allegorical interpretations there are no incompatibilities and contradictions. According to an old rabbinic adage, 'Scripture has seventy faces.'" Words! Our friends Chris Offutt and Melissa Ginsburg were over a few weeks ago and we were all speculating about the relationship of the phrase "in lieu of" to the word lieutenant. Then I remembered! When my mom visited for Thanksgiving, she brought me this enormous old dictionary I used to love. It's the WEBSTER'S NEW TWENTIETH CENTURY DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, UNABRIDGED, SECOND EDITION, from 1974. I spent a lot of time with that dictionary. I read it so much that the covers came off and my grandmother rebound it with the same contact paper she used to line the kitchen drawers. The dictionary proved very helpful to our discussion and the contact paper is still holding everything together! When I was looking up "lieu" and "lieutenant," I flipped to a page on which one of the "guide words" at the top was lipostomosis. I didn't even have to glance at the definition. How well I recalled it from the times it terrified me as an impressionable child thumbing through the enormous dictionary. I was fascinated by that word. It means "absence of a mouth." It occurs to me all of a sudden that we also ran across "mimp" in the old dictionary that night: "an affected puckering of the mouth or lips." So those are your words for the day: charivari, chiliastic, lipostomosis, mimp. Chris Offutt demonstrated his impressions of both lipostomosis and mimp. A better title for this "post" might have been "An Affected Puckering." Or maybe that's my NEXT next novel, the sequel to "A Fresh Rupture." Words! Goodbye from words.