They say that sorry is the hardest word. Really it’s no harder than any other word to say, but to mean it is a different thing all together.
Unfortunately when we mean it the most, when we’re absolutely sincere, that goes hand in hand with times we wrong those we care about the most.
What I would give to be hand in hand with the person I care about the most.
Gauche /ɡəʊʃ/ Adj.
You probably already know that left-handed people die seven years younger than their right handed counterparts. Did you also know they’re more likely to suffer from PTSD? That they’re more inhibited? And that even though they only make up roughly 10% of the population they account for 20% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia?
It sucks to be left-handed.
Our transport system, our writing system, our everyday implements are all anti-sinister. Sinister. That is seriously an accepted description of being left-handed, it comes from the Latin sinestra meaning left hand which was, over time, adopted into Middle-English to mean ‘unlucky’ and then that evolved into ‘evil’. But it also retained the whole left-handed side of the deal too. Which is why I’m glad I’m not left-handed. And it’s also why I find the word gauche so interesting.
Gauche (awkwardly trying to pronounce that in your head? Rhymes with the middle syllable of a-troc-ious) has two meanings. The first is left or, more specifically, left-handed. The second, and here’s the punchline, is ‘awkward’. Straight away this word kicks left-handed people in the teeth and as you delve deeper it gets worse. Nowadays the word is typically used to refer to awkwardness of a social nature; a simple faux-pas like asking your colleague how their wife is. Two weeks after they’ve been served with divorce papers. But it comes from French where before it meant socially inept it literally meant to veer or turn while you walked (gauchir) and before that its roots were in blatant trampling and clumsiness.
Its meaning is also in its pronunciation. English speaking tongues aren’t supposed to put those sounds together yet we’ve just plucked it straight from the French, no attempt to transliterate (read: bastardize) as we usually do with our borrowed words. At first glance I pronounced it ‘gorsh’. And by that I mean every time I read it I have to correct myself.
Gauche is the kind of word that is built solely on centuries of prejudice against those born just a little different from us. The left hand has been associated with the Devil since the days when the Devil was a whole range of mischievous spirits in Roman mythology just tearing shit up for fun. Like having two left feet makes you somehow a worse dancer than someone with two right feet. That is how ingrained in our culture the right-side-bias is.
And this word proves it beyond measure.
So I found a blue moleskin tucked away in my room with this, among some other things, written in it. It’s titled as a draft but I don’t believe that.
I say it to you
I say it so true
When you say it back
It feels like adieu
More sure of it now
Than first it was said
‘Cause I’m more at peace
With thoughts in my head
Three words that we know get bandied around
What people love most is just how they sound
But not when I say it
Perhaps nor with you
Perhaps I imagine
That sound of adieu
Tonight when you said it
You rid me of fears
Expressed it so well
You brought me to tears
It’s not just the drink
Nor the late hour
Tears brought to the brink
And here comes the shower.
Here’s some truth for you and it’ll bug me unless I say it, just knowing you’re probably pronouncing this page wrong.
The ‘v’ in Latin is pronounced with a labio-velar approximate (that’s a ‘w’ sound).
Of all the interesting and amazing words that I enjoy there seems to be a prevalence for words that start with ‘P’. This in mind, here’s numero duos.
Petrichor /ˈpɛtɹɪkɔ(ə)ɹ/ Noun.
The etymology of this word is fairly easy, as far as unusual words go. Petra- (or petros) is Greek for stone and –Ichor refers to the mythological ‘blood’, if you like, of the Ancient Greek gods. The word was first published by Australian scientists Bear and Thomas in 1964 and refers to the smell that is emitted after raining.
Wikipedia will tell you exactly how and why it happens but that’s not what interests me here. What I enjoy about this word is that the phenomenon is so often referred to but more often than not the word itself is never actually used. I grew up with my parents and grandparents always claiming they could “smell rain”. As it happens this smell can occur both before (from accumulating moisture in humid conditions) and after (from the washing of oils from the ground by precipitation) a heavy or long-awaited rain. And I always thought they were just making it up. Having a good guess at the weather and a joke at the same time. That is until I found this word about two years ago, hiding in the depths of English, apparently known to quite a few but kept as a diamond might be by a miser.
And it’s beautiful. The word seems to form on your lips and then move back into your mouth before turning around again to float forth into the word. I love the sound of it, the feel of it and, now that I can recognize it, I love the smell of it too. It’s like freshly cut grass but with more depth, or some crazy hippy mix of every nice smelling incense, ever. It smells exactly how you feel after a well deserved shower. It’s crisp and yet warm and inviting.
I feel the same about the word itself. Bear and Thomas were poetically brilliant in naming it. Petrichor. To combine that very real, very concrete (excuse the pun) petra with the mythological essence flowing through the veins of Olympians. It reminds me of the Roman concept of numens, the spiritual life-forces which they believed lived in all natural objects. Like somehow the rain has washed clean their hosts and nourished them and we can smell their essence emanating and growing.
Petrichor is no longer such a rarity in English. It made it to Reddit, Google will bring up a myriad of sites to define it for you, the more courageous individuals will even use it in everyday language. That, in and of itself, is great. It’s English evolving. Not in the sense that this word has just been coined, it hasn’t, but because it is becoming more common you could say it’s gaining more authority as a word. You might use poppysmic and have your friends think you’re making shit up but petrichor? That’s going to be ringing bells in everyone’s vocabulary very soon.
I watched a few episodes of Dexter a while ago. I was doing a drug-trial to get some extra cash (though I promise those drugs had no influence on what I’m about to write) and to pass time I went through a season or two.
See what intrigued me about Dexter was not the blood and gore nor the vigilante justice but rather the way he is. This emotionless, psychopathic man who never feels … anything. Everything anyone thinks or sees of him in regard to demeanor, intent, thoughts and feelings is a carefully constructed facade that Dexter has practiced since his childhood. And this is, sociologically, a bad thing because it means no love, no remorse, nothing.
Now this doesn’t come across as overly odd to me, this facade. I’m no psychopath, I’ll be sure to put that out there right now. I definitely have emotion and feeling that stem from places far deeper than my own consciousness. But my query comes from this:
If I am able to effectively control a lot of my emotions, choose which ones I give action to and which ones will govern me, does that not mean in terms of the others (the ignored, suppressed and forgotten tides of feeling) I place a facade over them? If I am angry at someone and simply ignore that until it no longer occupies my thoughts have I not successfully muted this? And in doing so do I then place an image over it to project a mask of myself to those around me?
Because I occasionally have felt that I do this. It’s how I can control emotion. I used to be a boy completely over-run and oppressed by my own desires and feelings but I learnt to control this and one way I did so was to simply ignore it and “put on a brave [or otherwise appropriate] face”. The feelings would subside and then my conscious mind had control enough to make a rational decision with regard to the situation.
And we all do this, to some extent. If you have a basic control on your emotions then you must. If you’ve ever been accused of bottling up your emotions then you’ve done this, albeit poorly since you were called out on it.
What truly irks me is that you get better at it. Continuing to suppress your emotions in favour of logical thinking and hard-line rationality becomes so easy that often when an emotion springs forward into your brain it’s easy to brush it off. A sudden rise of jealously before you shrug and inwardly murmur “no, there’s no point in that”. The rush of anger as someone cuts you off in traffic only for a voice to reason “calm down” as you smile toward the asshole driver. There are two ways for this to go; it either builds until you can no longer hold anything else in and suddenly you’re on the six o’clock News for your road-rage or you get better at it and you barely even notice the emotions coming to surface before they disappear again.
So here’s a tip that I’ll attribute to NWA: Express yourself. Before you either can’t or you can’t help it.
Poppysmic /po’pizmik/ Adj.
I like this word for a lot of reasons. It is arguably the rarest word in English, having first been recorded by James Joyce in the stage directions of Ulysses where he directs the character Florry to “[whisper] lovewords murmur, liplapping loudly, poppysmic plopslop”. As much as I would love to tell you that I found this beautiful word whilst casually perusing Ulysses on a stormy Saturday afternoon that would be a lie. I have a far more fond memory of discovery when it comes to poppysmic and that is why it is my first entry here.
I was dating a girl (who happens to now be my girlfriend and the love of my life) and she told me about a movie she’d seen where a character wrote rare words in obscure places. From memory the purpose of this conversation was to confirm whether or not I, in my expert linguistic opinion, knew if poppysmic was a real word. She then, however, got coy and wouldn’t tell me the word nor the movie. Unperturbed I did a bit of hunting around on the internet (with barely a clue to start with) and found both the movie (Love Happens) and the etymology and definition of this very intriguing lexeme. It seems that Ulysses, Love Happens and a Belfast Telegraph review of said movie are the only pieces of literature to ever have featured this gem.
It came in to English by the French popisme and before that the Latin poppysma. What I love about this is apparently the Romans used the term to describe a sound made by smacking one’s lips in a taut sort of kissing manner, particularly during sex, that signified enjoyment. The image of some toga-adorned Caesar-like character doing this befuddles me every time it comes to mind. Why is it that they chose that particular way to express themselves? Was moaning, swearing to Jupiter and Venus and the odd grunt too barbaric? Were they perhaps too eager in blowing kisses to their sexual partners? I can’t seem to avoid these questions when confronted with the etymology.
And nowadays of course the closest we have to this is somewhat unsettling given its origin. The clucking, kiss kiss sound you make to call over a cat or encourage a horse? Poppysmic.
Think of that next time you’re enticing Mittens to come and sit on your lap.
The cherry on top for me is the onomatopoeic nature of the word. That sharp ‘pop’ your lips make forming the sound of the voiceless bilabial stop /p/, not once but twice, could easily be described as poppysmic.
To be honest I don’t see why this word is so rare – here’s hoping it’s about to see a comeback.