Thursday, December 30, 2010




1 : a person to be revered for high-mindedness, wisdom, and selflessness
2 : a person of great prestige in a field of endeavor



: merge, blend

MAHATMA does not have its own place in the thesaurus; it appears first under the entry for celebrity, along with synonyms like big cheese, hot shot, and superstar. I would have equated the word more with messiah—number four out of five meanings is: a zealous leader of some cause or project. This leads me to believe MAHATMA is slowly losing it's first meaning and moving closer to the vagueness that infects much of modern language.

This is a topic I've inadvertently touched on several times in the writing of this blog. Within my brief peeks into etymology, I've noticed a trend of meanings becoming more vague, softened, general. The word qualm comes to mind—a word that once meant a violent attack of illness because of a bad feeling, an instinct, hormonal perhaps. The word now just means a doubt. Maybe we are less in touch with the physical cues of our instincts. Maybe we shut them out. I read the softening of the word as a parallel softening of us, or rather, of a more primal intuition.

It's a modern stereotype that westerners don't believe in any of that mumbo-jumbo, so to speak, and the English language reflects that disbelief. Hold it together, keep out of nonsense, it's nothing, it's nothing, napkin in lap, hands at sides, smile now, don't give away your doubt.

And meanings MELD together and drift away from their distinction, no longer unique, but homogenous. The words lose their identities. They are our slaves. We take a word and say it over and over to rob it of its meaning, it becomes a lost sound. We are confused by the new foreignness of such familiar word, but in awe of our role in the matter. Look what I have done! Like pouring salt on a slug and reveling in both our power and our shame.

Somewhere someone has the power to delete words from existence, take them off the map leaving only a palimpsest; the lost meanings appear as shadows in the meanings of new, shiny, compact words. The erased words are now only meaningless sounds. Gibberish.

And gibberish is a word. A word to describe the obscurity of words.


I started this blog a year ago to "challenge myself to find relevance in every single one of those words." What I have found is that relevance is subjective. There is no relevance to find in any word, it is ours to give. Such is the nature of language. Meaning comes from the beholder.

I admit I also hoped this blog would expand my vocabulary. But as I look back at the words I have studied, I remember only a handful of definitions. What I remember is what I wrote, how I processed, what the word inspired within me. This is the difference between definition and meaning. I have given each one of these words a new meaning—a meaning somehow attached to me and how I see the world. The words don't really matter, they are only tools. It's about learning how to better wield them to our advantage.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010




1 a : full of plums
b : choice, desirable
2 a : having a plum color
b : rich and mellow often to the point of affectation

One day, a couple jobs ago, a co-worker and I stood around bored, deciding what food represented each of our fellow employees. He decided I should be a plum. I am getting that uncomfortable feeling that I've written this story in another blog, but I don't have the patience to look, and I don't much care anyway. It simply eases my mind that the reader know I am well aware of the potential that I'm repeating myself.

Anyway, I was pleased with this designation. I don't know what it was about a plum that stuck me so right. I guess I was happy a plum is not a widely appreciated fruit, it doesn't often make it into juices or sorbets or desserts, even among the other stone fruits it gets little play. Something about a plum suggests—

I remember now. It was something I wrote about a Japanese plum. Don't remember the word. Still don't feel like looking.

—the mysteries inherent in under-appreciation. I'm not often in the mood for a plum nor do I regularly eat them, but when I do I'm pleasantly surprised. I guess maybe I communicate something similar in my personality. I'm not popular or well-liked, but there's something there. Like a plum I somehow fall under the radar, and I like it like that.

All of this, of course, somewhat refutes the above definition of PLUMMY as choice and desirable. Neither would I describe myself as "full of plums" or "plum colored."* My voice may sometimes come out as rich or mellow, but not quite affected. So, while I may equate myself with the ideology of the plum, I wouldn't call myself PLUMMY.

But enough about me.

The plum's dried version, the prune, does not have an accompanying adjective. I thought PRUNY might be a word (as in: fingers out of a bathtub) but it is not so. Alas.

*Although, this reminds me that I once told my mother that purple was my favorite color (20 some odd years ago) and she refuses to believe otherwise.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010




: to move with a clumsy heavy tread

Scholars believe GALUMPH is a hybrid of "gallop" and "triumphant" as pertaining to its first use in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. Carroll uses GALUMPH in the passage during which the "Beamish Boy" slays the "Jabberwock":

One, Two! One, two. And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went GALUMPHING back.

Carroll was known for devising his own poetic vernacular, including other words such as:

brillig: the time of boiling dinner; the close of the afternoon
slithy: slime + lithe = smooth and active
mimsy: miserable and miserable, thus unhappy
borogove: an extinct wingless parrot that builds nests under sundials and lives off veal

He was especially fond of the portmanteau, or blend of two pre-existing words and meanings.

For a fairly comprehensive list of portmanteaus, see here. This spectrum stretches from because to beefalo, although the list-makers miss the boat on words like bacne and spork, which somehow didn't make it. Wikipedia has a decent list, too.

The best one I have come up with (not as to say someone hasn't thought of it already somewhere else) is boredinary (boring + ordinary).

Monday, December 27, 2010




1 : tightrope walking
2 : a show especially of mental agility

On a Wednesday morning in August of 1974 a French man got arrested in New York for his acts of FUNAMBULISM, which he executed 1,368 feet above Manhattan on a 450 pound cable between the two towers of the World Trade Center. The man—Philippe Petit—and his posse had been staking out the towers for months; the night before his act they snuck their equipment up to the roof of one of the towers and shot the cables across the "void" using a bow and arrow. The next morning he crossed the rope eight times, and finally was greeted by the NYPD at the end of his rope on the South Tower. All charges were eventually dropped in exchange for Petit putting on a FUNAMBULIST show for NYC's children.

When asked how he felt seeing the Twin Towers collapse, Petit responded: "I felt eviscerated."

Good use of vocabulary, Petit.

Sunday, December 26, 2010




1 : to confuse or disconcert
2 : to involve in financial difficulties
3 : to cause to experience self-conscious distress
4 : to hinder or impede

I find EMBARRASSMENT difficult to access in my old(er) age. It's an emotion tacked onto the revealing of things hidden. The only things I keep hidden are those still hidden to myself—I'm not sure who would be able to see me in my actual nakedness when I have yet to really see it. I expose myself so much in my writing that I've lost much shame. In many ways this is a good thing. The writing leaves me feeling as though I have nothing to lose and that I have controlled every act of unrobing.

But I know there is more. There are paths I will not walk down; I stand at their inchoate beginnings, looking into the tunnels of darkness, plagued with an excitement only trumped by a fear whose parameters I cannot explain. In order to traverse this darkness I would have to lose myself and erase my own footprints, never again to be found. I don't know if this is the ultimate freedom or the ultimate trap or if those two endings are actually the same.

I just know I have been hovering at the precipice.

Saturday, December 25, 2010




: small bunch of flowers

The descendent of Tussie-Mussie.

Friday, December 24, 2010




: incapable of being conquered, overcome, or subdued

Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman.