Category Archives: word tasting notes

engineer

This is the fifth chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

engineer. noun. 1. Someone who designs or builds engines and machinery, or anyway knows how to. 2. Someone who operates engines or other machines or complicated equipment. 3. Someone who makes complicated things happen. verb. Make something complicated happen. From Anglo-Norman and Old French, ultimately from the same Latin as gave us ingenious.

 

This album is from about 15 years ago, plus or minus. Family and friends. There’s Carol, lips pursed, looking like she was getting up to mischief in some place she wasn’t supposed to be, which in fact was exactly the case. You can see the bookshelf and camera cabinet behind her. She moved to Vancouver and Jacob hasn’t heard from her in years. There are Pam’s friends Dick and Jane. Jacob always wondered if they got married just because of their names, but they seemed to have fun anyway. In this photo Jane’s hand is swinging in a wide gesture and just connecting with a glass of wine. Jacob could have warned her – he saw it coming – but then he wouldn’t have gotten the photo. And here’s a photo of a puppy and a model train.

Jacob inhales sharply just a little, then raises his eybrows and exhales through his nose. He remembers this photo: he shot a roll of medium-format getting it, even though it was just for fun. The train was no problem, of course, but that puppy. They don’t go where you want them to and do go where you don’t want them to. And when you’re shooting that close, you need to stop the lens down to get enough in focus, which means a slow shutter speed, and the little bugger kept moving.

He flicks the page abruptly over to the next, but I’m not done telling you about this photo. We can let him take close looks at dinner party pictures while I say a bit more that you’ll want to know. Continue reading

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perm

This is the fourth chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

perm. noun. A hairstyle produced with the aid of heat and chemicals that holds a wavy shape for a long time. From permanent wave; permanent from Latin per ‘through, thoroughly’ plus manere ‘last, remain, endure’ and wave from Old English wafian (verb), from an old Germanic root.

 

Yup, there she is, in all her studio-lit made-up glory. She’s wearing a purple dress and she has a professional makeup job and her hair is done in a kind of eighties perm, tighter on the top, then wavy down the sides. A couple of years behind the times. But this is the sort of perfect studio photo that people actually paid money for, and still do. The backdrop is a marbled grey; the lighting is studio strobes, of course, but also a theatre light with a “surprise pink” gel on it, that kind of magenta that makes anyone’s complexion perfect. So perfectly trite. There’s a reason this photo is in an album he doesn’t show to other people.

It’s also the only photo of Pam in the whole album, and one of very few in all his personal albums. Continue reading

blindside

This is the third chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

blindside. verb. Hit someone from an angle outside of their field of vision; catch a person unawares; exploit a weakness to attack. From blind plus side; its origin appears to be in American football.

 

This album is from Jacob’s university days. He took a lot of pictures then, but kept maybe one in 36, and this album is only personal memories – not even meant for anyone else to look at. Here are two young men in porkpie hats, one of them jutting his jaw forward so that a straw sticking out of his mouth points upward, the other making as if to put his tongue in the ear of the one. Now, who in the hell were they? Never mind; it’s a good picture. Personal feelings about subjects of pictures can cloud their pictorial merits. On the other hand, a famous subject can make much of an otherwise unremarkable photo. Here’s the campaign photo he took of the guy who became student union president, all blow-dried and properly lit, with a 21-year-old’s version of gravitas. He’s probably not famous now, but he was a thing on campus then. Shortly after the election, a water balloon launched from a hundred feet away by some engineers hit him in the side of the head and blinded him in one eye. You couldn’t take this picture of him after that, although he actually made for more interesting photos.

Here’s an action scene from a floor lounge in the university student residence. The furniture is purple and green, couches made of tubular metal and cushions. One guy is standing on a couch holding surgical tubing adapted with a pen nib for firing an intense stream of water. It is bellied out like a fed anaconda and it is power-washing someone just half-off the left edge of the photo. At the same time, a lanky lad with an open shirt is swinging a large cushion that is about to connect with the head of hose-guy and send him sprawling. Off on the right side of the photo in the half-shadow background is a young woman with short brown hair who is sitting calmly in a chair and looking directly at the camera with the sort of blankness that dares you to guess what she’s thinking.

Clara. Continue reading

tumbler

This is the second chapter of my month-long fiction, album, made of word pictures.

tumbler. noun. 1. An acrobat or similar gymnastic performer. 2. A small hunting dog that turns and tumbles in catching its quarry. 3. A kind of pigeon that can do tumble-turns in flight. 4. A drinking glass or cup with a flat bottom; originally, a drinking glass or cup with a bottom that was curved or pointed but definitely not flat, so that you had to finish the drink before setting it down because it would tumble when you did set it down. 5. The part of a lock that turns when you have put the key in; also, similar other mechanical things that you probably won’t encounter if you don’t sail or shoot. 6. Any of some other things that tumble. From tumble, a verb with old Germanic origins.

 

Jacob is sitting on the carpet with the photo albums, rather than on the couch behind him, because he has a tumbler full of Bourbon and he does not actually want it to tumble. The couch has no side tables and he’s not going to set the tumbler on the couch cushion and he does have to set it down as he flips through the albums. And he’s not going to look through all these albums while standing. He’s settled in. He got his exercise already today, a nice 83-minute run, 16 kilometres, not too bad given that most guys his age would be out of breath running to the end of the driveway. Now he’s shower fresh and he’s going to look through memories of people. They will be the only people he’ll see today. Out the window it’s trees and more trees, and even up the road towards the campground there’s no one, because it’s really not camping season anymore.

This house is too big for him now that he’s the only one in it, the only thumping, groaning, breathing person. Lots of ghosts, and that’s another reason he could move on. He’ll be a ghost soon enough, though. He’s already dead, as I told you; he just hasn’t gotten to the part where he leaves his body yet. Soon, though. He’s rolling towards it as inexorably as if he were on a tumbrel. And then he’ll be another ghost. And after the house burns down a few years from now? Who knows. Are ghosts inflammable? Continue reading

album

It’s NaNoWriMo again, that month when people in the grips of an urge to write attempt to channel it into a novel. I don’t have the time to write a complete novel, but I’m going to string together a number of word pictures to make a story. It starts here.

album. noun. A book or book-like item for collecting pictures, clippings, autographs, or similar things; or something that resembles that in some important way (e.g., a record album). From Latin album, ‘blank tablet or notice board’, from albus, ‘white’.

 

Jacob is dead. He doesn’t realize it yet, but he is, as surely as a person who has fallen from a high window is dead even before hitting the ground. It is inevitable, cannot be forestalled or diverted, is like a cheque that has been deposited even before it’s been cleared. It will be cleared, so it already shows in your balance. And Jacob is dead, even though he’s sitting there on the green tough carpet in his house flipping through photo albums.

The house is dead too. Events have been set in motion that will lead to its immolation within a few years. This wallpaper with its green and yellow abstraction of poplar and aspen woods, this carpet, this dark-brown-stained cabinetry, this large tripartite window, this stucco ceiling, all will be cinders, ashes, then buried under gravel. But he won’t be here to see it. If he were it wouldn’t happen. Continue reading

trick

This is a word picture.

trick. noun. 1. Clever act intended to dupe or mislead others. 2. Feat of skill. 3. Knack. 4. Client of a prostitute. 5. Set of cards won in one hand of a game. 6. Oh, come on, you know this word. It has a lot of meanings. From Old French trique, related to Italian triccare and modern French tricher, and also to English treachery.

 

Jacquie is standing on the subway platform now, in front of the sign that says the station name. You don’t see ST. PATRICK. You see her face heavily made up, smiling just a little at one corner of the mouth, and her hair dyed black and voluptuously permed, and then TRICK. The ST. PA is behind her. And so is the past.

She’s in a fortune-teller costume. It doesn’t stand out tonight because it’s October 31. She’s on her way home from the company Hallowe’en party. She’s left earlier than most of the people. The trick to not having to deal with the messy end is not to be there for it.

Well, she organized the damn thing and put it all together. They can clean it up. Continue reading

matryoshka

The doll that the doll that the doll that the doll that the doll that the doll that the doll contains contains contains contains contains contains contains another doll.

Mamma mia! That is one mother of a sentence. And this is one little mother of a word. A mommy of a word, in fact, since if you go through all the linguistic layers that’s the translation of it – or, for Brits, a mummy, which is doubly suitable because the other kind of mummy has a body inside a thing inside a thing inside a thing. You see, my mother is a real doll, and your mother may be a real doll too, but this mommy is really a real doll. Or, rather, several real dolls, one inside another.

You’ve seen them, I’m sure, those Russian dolls. They look like a woman in traditional dress, and if you twist the top and bottom apart there’s another smaller one inside, and inside that is another, and so on. There is, at last, a smallest one in the middle that doesn’t open to show another, but that’s just due to practical limitations. Theoretically it could be mommies all the way down, or at least down to the molecular level.

There are many things in the world that resemble this sort of thing. Ownership structures of tax-dodge companies, for instance, and money-laundering schemes, and for that matter the entire banking and credit system too. Onions, and to some extent peonies. Reality itself, in many models, including the one in The Matrix, and, if you’ve seen Inception, some dream structures – your mother was there at your conception, but this matryoshka is there at inception. Sentences, as we have seen. And some words, too. Consider a portmanteau word that is made with another portmanteau word, as for example fugxury.

I’m sure matryoshka would get used more if it were easier for English tongues to get around. It is a bit large and sloshy, but it’s also actually shorter than we want to say it: it’s really three syllables, not four. Well, I don’t expect Anglophones to manage “tryo” as one syllable (/trʲɵ/ in the original Russian), but that’s how it’s made: матрёшка (don’t you like the little crown on the e? That makes it not e but “yaw” or “yuh”) is a diminutive form (the shka шка is a standard diminutive ending [like English -y or -ette], as for instance on babushka, ‘granny’) of Матрёна, which is a Russian woman’s name that comes from Latin matrona, which means ‘matron’ and comes from mater ‘mother’.

So there it is. Once you get down through the layers, you get a little mother at the inception. The word that the word that the word that the word contains contains contains contains another. In the beginning and end is the word.