Daryl, Margot, and I were sitting by food court windows overlooking Yonge Street, observing the ebb and – mostly – flow of life below, and the conversation meandered into politics.
“In loom of a fall election,” Daryl said, “I –”
“Wait,” Margot cut him off. “In what?”
“In loom of a fall election.”
“You mean in lieu,” she said, her index finger admonitory.
“I sure don’t,” Daryl said. “In lieu means ‘in place of.’ I’m not talking about that. There’s a fall election coming, it’s looming in the near future, and we’re in the loom of it. It’s looming over us.”
“You can’t say that!” Margot protested.
“I think he just did,” I said. “But I haven’t heard it before.”
“Look,” Daryl said, “it gets used. Google it, you’ll find enough hits. Anyway, as it happens, I just saw it used in the news headline on that TV screen.” He pointed at one of the coven of screens stationed throughout the food court showing news and advertising. “If journalists are using it, it’s in use.”
Margot gave a little shudder. Her disaffection for the English of journalists was not a secret to those who knew her. “But what is a loom?” she said with asperity. “I mean, a device for weaving…”
“Originally a tool of any kind,” I said. “A good old Anglo-Saxon word, over the centuries narrowed in meaning.”
“A political machine,” Daryl said. “Not what I had in mind, though. Loom is the looming shape, looming presence. I looked it up. Something seen at first indistinctly, as, for instance, a ship on the horizon, is a loom.”
“But we’re not in it.” Margot jabbed her finger into her coffee cup, making a small splash. She sucked the coffee off her fingertip and added, “I think you’re a loon.”
“Loom‘s a word for that, too,” Daryl said. “A kind of loon – or its meat, for cooking – is sometimes called loom. Actually, loon comes from loom, not the other way around. Of course the etymology of this loom is different.”
“Well,” I said, “a fall election will eat up plenty of loonies, we can be sure.”
“And,” Daryl continued, “the etymology of loom, the verb, is different from that of loom, the implement, thought they’re both Germanic. But there’s a fair bit about the verb that’s obscured in the mists of time.”
“Looming, as it were,” I said.
Margot riposted. “I think you just grabbed this word, loom, because it has an echo of doom and other shadowy suggestions from that spooky oo, and this vague image of something overbearing in the fog, and you stuffed it into the form of an existing phrase in place of the lieu.” (“Not in place of the loo!” Daryl protested, crossing his legs as though interdicted from micturition.) “I find that a bit malapropriate,” she concluded.
“Can you say malapropriate?” I exclaimed. Daryl, meanwhile, was making spooky gestures with his hands and leaning forward saying “Loom! Loooooom! Llllloooooommmmm!”
“I just did,” Margot said to me, folding her arms. “So there. Malaprop plus inappropriate. Two can play.” (In fact, a bit of checking later showed that malappropriate exists as a synonym for inappropriate. Alas, there goes that bit of fun.) “Oh, knock that off,” she snapped at Daryl, “you sound like a sick cow.”
“Sheep would be more appropriate for an election,” I said. “Like lambs to the slaughter.”
“Looms to the slaughter!” Daryl said, clearly having a bit too much fun.
“Well, I don’t like this new phrase, in loom of,” Margot declared, in case we had missed the fact. “It’s bound to cause confusion, and it simply sounds ill-educated.”
“And you would use what in its place?” Daryl demanded.
“In the… in advance of… ahead of…” Margot winced; she knew that she had just uttered a bit of journalese: Ahead of a fall election, X is doing Y. “Um, With a fall election looming…”
“I like in loom of better,” Daryl declared. “And so do they.” He gestured at the TV. “It’s catching on.”
“Well, it’s appropriate for politics, anyway,” I said. “It may not be an heirloom, but it’s a hot air loom.”
“What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!” Daryl added.
“Such is the fruit of the loom,” Margot muttered, gazing into her near-empty coffee cup.