Blunt Force Truth

Here, I’ll lay some truth on you.

Truth is, I had to stop and think: ‘is it blunt forced truth, or blunt force truth?’ I settled on the latter using my own sound cognitive skills. Everybody has blind spots.

Like, when I was young I thought it was ‘next jear’ not ‘next year’ (despite the fact I was familiar with the word ‘year’), this was undoubtedly due to being brought up around people who chewed rather than spoke the English language. And if that wasn’t enough, my first ever school teacher had a raging lisp. Well I didn’t know this at the time; I was informed of it after I had too developed a lisp. Well, that’s what happens when the only adult conversation a 5 year old gets is from an ancient with a lisp. A similar thing happened about 3 years later when I had a teacher with a very heavy accent (I have no idea where he was from, Poland perhaps, judging by his surname). We were doing some science experiment that called for various chemicals, one of which was methylated spirits. However when he ran his tongue over the word it came out as ‘mettalated spirits’. So that was how I pronounced it as well. Seemed reasonable enough, I’d never heard the word before, so, monkey see, monkey do. At the days end I was describing to my mother what we did that day and by chance I mentioned the ‘mettalated spirits’, oh how she laughed at the stupid little girl who couldn’t pronounce methylated. What raucous fun it must have been.

I tell you it’s any wonder I speak at all. Not a year after the ‘methylated’ incident we come to yet another language impasse. My family was holidaying; I pointed to some very large rocks and said something to the effect of ‘look mum, boulders’. I think it’s rather evident that I was neither a smart nor an interesting child. I digress; instead of fobbing me off with some noncommittal ‘whatever, that’s nice’ that had become de riguer in my growing up, my mother instead tried to engage: ‘Oh, they’re not boulders, they’re called bowlers’. My dad sniggered. He always was sniggering; in fact, I can say without a doubt I only have 3 memories of my day growing up: him working, him sniggering, and him taking me to a roller rink (while possibly sniggering). “No they aren’t… I’m pretty sure they’re called boulders”, I said, slightly wavering in my conviction; after all I was but an empty headed child, full evil deeds and ignorance in equal parts. I was wrong before and I would be wrong again was my childhood motto (didn’t actually have my motto spelled out in so many words of course). Luckily a bottle of wine had drawn their attention away from the misinformation hour, and being the slow child I was I failed to internalize the lesson. Of course I didn’t fail to internalize the event or its meaning. I knew – still know, in fact – where I stood.

 The difference to being laughed at and laughed with is learnt young.

A Post About Palimpsest’s

I learned a new word.  How wonderful it is to learn a new word as an adult.  As someone with a self-reported firm grasp of the English language I am always astounded to learn a new word.  It’s as if it has been hiding from me for 27 years.  How dare it go unnoticed, unread and undefined for so long.  Imagine all the others out there just waiting to be found; cheeky bastards.  I could die tomorrow having never uncovered all of the words waiting to be uncovered.  If ever there was an argument for being widely read this would surely be it.

Do you know what the first word I ever learned to spell was?  It was ‘freak’.  It’s true.  Have you seen the Disney film ‘Dumbo’?  In it one of the mean adult elephants refers to Dumbo as an ‘F-R-E-A-K’ – because if you are going to insult an elephant with enlarged ears it is best to spell your insult lest he understand it.  Incidentally, I don’t think I knew what this spelled, or even what it meant, I just went around repeating it – constantly.  Kids say the darnedest things indeed.

I kind of gave away my word discovery in the title – way to bury the lead.  Just to spell it out (literally) the word I learned is palimpsest.  Palimpsest.  Say it with me. I love the way this word rolls around in my mouth.  In case this is a new word for you as well a palimpsest is a manuscript or piece of writing that has been effaced to make room for later writing.  Essentially it is an early form of recycling although unlike our current notion of recycling the aim wasn’t to reduce waste, but to minimise costs.  Parchment was expensive and rare so reusing it made sense.  This takes the whole notion of new words waiting for discovery and amplifies it; there are entire works, books, ideas, stories buried under layers of other ancient text.  Imagine that.

“After centuries of mistreatment, the Archimedes palimpsest is in bad shape. During its thousand-year life, it has been scraped, singed by fire, dribbled with wax, smeared with glue, and ravaged by a deep purple fungus, which in places has eaten through its pages. Without the use of computer technology, the Archimedes palimpsest would be largely illegible. But modern imaging technologies, similar to those that helped experts read portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1996, allow for astonishingly precise views of faded text.”

Since learning this new word two more things have come to my attention.  First: This word is everywhere.  Second: This phenomenon is known as the frequency illusion.  Seriously, I can barely go a day without seeing the word palimpsest somewhere.  To be clear, I am not spending my days immersed in ancient documents in some museums dusty basement.  Hell, I’m unemployed and barely get out of my pajamas most days; yet I keep seeing it.  The same thing happened when I learned the term ‘olfactory’ (and no, I don’t know how I got to approximately 25 years of age never having heard or read the term).  Perhaps it’s due to the word palimpsest being somewhat unique that I am more likely to notice it when it does crop up.  Perhaps I’m going insane.  I can’t rule either out.

Image and quote source