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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pasquinade

So, am I the only one who gets the dictionary.com word of the day?

See, vocabulary used to be my thing.  I could go over a list of words, word, synonym, part of speech, word used in a sentence, brief etymology, connotation/denotation-- I had three lists, one for 10th, one for 11th, one for 12th grade.  Each list had fifteen words a week, for 17 weeks a semester.  Some of the words were recursive, but by no means all of them, and yeah.  I knew them all.

I was pretty good.

So anyway, when I no longer taught school, I got dictionary.com, and learned just how pedestrian "pretty good" really was.

Every morning I wake up and there's a new word in my inbox.  And I have one of three reactions to it:

A.  I know what that word means.  I can delete that message.

B.  Not only do I not know what that word means, but that word is so far outside of my experience as to not even be English.  If I looked that word up (and I sometimes do) I will find that the last time this word was used was in the 19th century, inside a textbook or a political treatise by someone I barely remember.  If I actually used that word, my editors would accuse me of making it up, showing the fuck off, or smoking some really good weed and not sharing.  I can delete that message.

C.  That word is vaguely familiar to me, but obscure enough to be a challenge.  I might be able to use that word, and, more importantly, I might be able to remember that word while I am engaged in an occupation which usually precludes me from remembering things like taking a leak or basic hygiene.  I shall open that message.

And sometimes the words stick!

Today's word was "pasquinade".

Now I like this word-- it's a word with satin and lace in it, redolent of sweetmeats and the smell of hair powder and body odor in a crowded ballroom.  This word has repressed venomous seductresses and politically jaded rakes all buried in its latinate decadence.  I want to live this word.

And then I look up the definition, and, sure enough, it means a satire or a lampoon, a skit or a piece of comedy designed to show someone at their worst light.

This word is a gourmet word.  It is delicious.  I adore this word.

Not only does it sound decadent-- the thing it means?

Is one of the things I believe most in the world.

Power is abstract.  Suffering is concrete.  Statistics are abstract.  Empathy is immediate.  Politics are abstract.  Laughter is action.  I am a very human believer that the only way to change the world is to affect the emotions of the human beings in it.

If you want the people in power to see themselves as ridiculous, you must laugh at them.

And hence, the pasquinade.

People will do almost anything to avoid being laughed at.

Now, sometimes this backfires.  I'm pretty sure that history is littered with the bloody heads of the people who enraged their leaders with a poorly timed snarky joke--but, on the plus side, bloody heads can be just as effective in rendering change as a vicious satire.  But, even then, it all started with the pasquinade.

And it gets even better than that!  Imagine the complexity of the society that could build, sound by glyph, such a complex word!  We had to have a government, and we had to have arts and culture, and we had to understand that concept (and it's a tough one, trust me!) that what someone says is not always what they mean.  Entire books--hell, entire genres--hell, damned near whole societies have been built on that concept alone!  And then, we had to take an example of government and irony, and we had to give it a name.

Am I the only one with the chills?  (Yes.  Amy you are the only one with the chills.  Go put on some slippers and stop pretending you have a brain.)

But see, I've always loved a good satire.  Teaching students to look beyond the "Please don't eat the babies!" horror of A Modest Proposal was one of the highlights of my teaching year.  I loved that you had to listen to the tone of voice in that essay to hear the biting satire.  I loved that Gulliver was a satiric hero, and that so are Forrest Gump and Charlie Brown and Homer Simpson.  I love that we have formed a heroic archetype around the wide-eyed, ingenuous person that we are when we discover that government is corrupt and that the leaders around us fail.  We expected people to say what they meant, and when we discovered that we were a wide-eyed rube, being betrayed, oh fear our intellectual wrath, because we were gullible and easily mocked for a day.  The fuckers who did that to us are going to be mocked forever.  

And hence, pasquinade.

And hence, my wet-panties at even a hint of an exotic tryst with the English language.  Ah, words, you were my first and most creative lover, and I'm sure you will be giving me plenty of thrills when the joys of the flesh are long forgotten.

And you're awfully fun when you're playing dirty, too.









9 comments:

Tracy Faul said...

*stumbles off to dictionary.com*

Yes, yes, I sometimes still read my actual, physical, paper dictionary.

My sister says it took all the fun out of fighting with me as kids because I had too much vocabulary & could end it with a single word. :D

evainesaid said...

I have subscribed to the "word of the day".

I adore words. Thank you for reminding me how much, Amy. :)

Alex W. said...

I get M-W's word of the day and it's just as enjoyable. I love to share it at work (with fellow editors). Sometimes it's just the perfect word for the day!

Roxie said...

I want a masquerade in the pasquinade. And I totes adorns this. Words are such fun.

I had a gelid, chitonous taco for lunch.

Donna Lee said...

I get the word of the day and have the same kind of reactions you do. Most of the time, I know the word already and I wonder "is my vocabulary that good or do they pander to a less educated audience?" and then they throw a word like pasquinade (which made me think of satin and sequins for some reason) and I learn something new.

Words, I loves them. Currently my favorites include serendipity. I not only like the way it sounds but I like what it mean.

Rhys Ford said...

I loooooove words.

Kim Fielding said...

This is a new word to me, and a wonderful one.

I love to collect delicious words like this one. And I also love when I'm speaking or writing, and I find the *exact* word to convey what I'm thinking. It's a very satisfying feeling!

Saren Johnson said...

What a fun word.

Janie Friedman said...

I get the OED WOTD, which comes complete with etymology, definition, usage and examples of where it's been used. My friends waaaay back in high school used to call me the walking dictionary because my love affair with words started so very young.

One of my favorites as a two year old was indubitably. One of my lifetime favorites is obscure because it's both fun to say and sounds like what it means. Would I be considered pretentious for admitting that I already knew pasquinade?

BTW I'm Blaize19 on the Twitters and wanted to thank you for always being so responsive when I mention you!