recrudesce, recrudescence

To become raw again. To have lain inert, latent, remissive, seemingly spent, curtailed, erased, and then to be refreshed, to resurge in vigor. At the risk of being crude: to regain virginity, to be renewed in nubility.

Is it possible? In fact, it is a perennial occurrence. After the raw, cold winter, the cracked ground is refreshed and the radices regrow. Green buds sprout once more. In the fullness of time they ripen, are picked. Last year this time: grapes grappled, crushed, then fermented, and from that comes wine. This year: again the grapes are raw, again they are ready for recruitment to the barriques. Then the first fresh wine, as always at that time of the year. And then the weather takes a turn for the raw. Meanwhile, the grapes of a million years ago, rotted into a potent liquor, are drawn from the ground in crude form, then refined to become fuel for the next crest of activity and the following long eons of decay.

Words recrudesce too. Old English ealriht, long gone from the lexis, reemerged as alright. An Old English man of the soil, a ploughman, was an eorðling, an earthling: bound to the ground of the planet. When, centuries later, we became aware how bound we were to our planet, and how unbounded the space around us, this word appeared, fresh again. Those words that are perpetually raw, never refined, manage always to maintain their freshness; others have their peaks and subsidences, and sometimes their peaks again.

And we, too, we recrudesce. After five or a dozen or a score of years gone to ground, seeming as though we wake up with six feet of dirt on our faces each morning, we may start to send out new shoots, grow new blossoms. Some who have seen their love etiolated or desiccated find it again, and, knowing now that both parties like piña colada and getting caught in the rain, sip again their cups and create an escape together. Others escape a suffocating sameness by choosing one of fifty ways to leave their lover.

It is neutral, recrudescence. Oh, that word, recrudescence, it has its flavours, its crude essence, its seventeen letters, its fourteen phonemes, its four e’s and three c’s and two r’s and handful of remainders. Its verb, recrudesce, lacks but the last of each. Each has a particular lexical crispness, accentuated by the liquid /r/ sounds and sharpened by the /s/ voiceless fricatives. We see the ec reemerge as the ce – even twice: thematically apposite. But we get that taste of crude – legitimately come by: the source is crudus, Latin for “raw”. These little crudités carry crudity. How can that be good?

It can be good or bad. A longstanding and technical sense is the return of a latent disease, as when the virus that gave you chickenpox as a child wakes up and gives you shingles as an adult. But another use is the reawakening of something valuable, a green blade rising from the buried grain. On the one hand we find Bertrand Russell speaking of the recrudescence of Puritanism and Baha’u’llah decrying “the recrudescence of religious intolerance, of racial animosity, and of patriotic arrogance”; on the other hand we have this much-quoted conclusion from Douglas MacArthur at the surrender of the Japanese in 1945:

We have had our last chance. If we do not now devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural development of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.

In the one kind, until someone or something decrees cure, we are cursed to random risk of outbreaks afresh; in the other, it is just such a resurrection that may rescue decency and ensure a renascence of creation. Something has been buried; many things have been buried; whether they are good or bad, we know only when they return, if they return – and we see what we bring to them too.

Thanks to Christina Vasilevski for suggesting recrudesce, which she spied in an article by David Quammen on popsci.com.

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