chirm

Ah, the chirping and chirking of pretty birds. (Hooray! It’s spring! The birds are on the wing! – But that’s absurd. The wings are on the bird.) Who doesn’t like a bit of birdsong? Just think of waking up to the fresh country air, the lively twittering of some bright avian greeting the sun outside your window.

Now think of waking up after having been up partying until, say, 3 or 4. Planning to sleep until, say, 10 or noon. But outside your window is the tree. That tree. The tree all the birds love. And the sun has risen. It’s almost 6! And the birds have a lot to say about it. All at once. Kinda loses its charm, dunnit?

Charm? Yeah, no. Chirm. So many chirps they almost combine to a hum. But not really a hum… more like the dozens of voices all singing different lines in different tempi in Ligeti’s famous Kyrie. Only more strident and with greater tonal range. Or like the warm rumbling hubbub of the many voices of people lolling in the Banff Hot Springs on a winter day, a rumbling rhubarb… if you up the pitch several octaves and give yourself a truly fearful headache with it.

Oh, you can use chirm to describe the rhubarb of a crowd, too. Or the babble of school children, or the din of a field or hive full of insects. Especially as a noun. As a verb – “they were chirming” – its use seems more focused on those freaking birds. At least according to Oxford.

Yes, I didn’t invent this word. And it doesn’t come from chirp (or hum); it traces to Old English cirman ‘cry out, make a noise’, which has some cognates in other Germanic languages. But its sources are obscured beyond that by the noise of history.

Chirm has lots of resonances. Chum, charm, germ, worm, squirm, smirch, Sherman, shirred, chrism, church, sperm, chert, churn… Such a blend of different tones and tastes, all together in a muddy brown sense and sound. Like one of those photos where they take a whole bunch of different faces and superimpose them and you get a sorty of very fuzzy blurry average. Like the chirm of thousands of voices.

This word doesn’t get used very much anymore. Not sure why not. Frankly, I think when the deep freeze finally clears (if it does) and all the birds are making their ruckus – much more than a murmur, to be sure, and not quite as graceful and shaped as a murmuration – or, for that matter, any time when you’re hearing the indistinct but slightly spiky roar of a group of folk, beasts, or bugs, this is a word you should have ready to use. Along with the other less polite ones you’ll be muttering if you’re reaching for the earplugs.

Not that anyone would hear you saying it, of course. Over that noise?

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