Fragmentary Evidence

The fact was not new to me, but like so many facts, it had been lost in the shuffle between truth and lies, reality and fiction, and experience and fantasy. The easiest way to remember it, I think, is to say this phrase: “It’s not plural.” That is, the term is “Daylight Saving Time,” NOT “Daylight Savings Time.” Yet we’ve allowed an error to enter our lexicon as if it belonged. Rather than casting it out like the blatant mistake it is, we’ve treated it with appreciation and respect, allowing it to spoil the language like unrestrained mold spoils cheese.

Next, we’ll permit the use of “supposably” in place of “supposedly,” which already is being done by too many people too frequently. Yet we can’t simply ban the use of “supposably” because, much to my chagrin, it is a valid word. It does not mean the same thing as “supposedly,” but it does mean something. To some people. But not to me. But to others, it can mean “capable of being supposed.” Whereas, “supposedly” means “accepted as or assumed to be true.” The easiest way to avoid confusion is to refuse to accept the legitimacy of “supposably” in all but the most base and substandard English. That, of course, is fundamentally wrong, but as long as one knows it’s wrong and insists on doing what one can to reframe the language so that it conforms with at least a modicum of intellectual superiority, it’s okay. So says me, the arbiter of the proper use of the English language as it escapes from my mouth, my pen, and my fingers.

Today’s “Word of the Day,” as specified by for this day (November 3, 2019) is obumbrate, pronounced ah-bum-brāt. It is a verb meaning “to darken, overshadow, or cloud.” Judging from the example sentences from, drawn from materials published in the eighteenth century, I suspect it is not in especially widespread use today. But that may change, especially if I have anything to say about it. In fact, I may start using it regularly in conversation, causing listeners nearby to assume I am simply bragging about what I assume is my extraordinary vocabularly.  The assumption would be wrong, of course, in that I am doing no such thing. Instead, I am trying (almost certainly without success) to popularize an arcane term. I might say, for example, “Whenever I think of the imbecile in the White House, the thought causes my mood to obumbrate like the sky when fierce storms approach.”

I rather doubt I’ll remember the proper term for saving daylight, nor will I recall that supposably is a valid word; nor, I suspect, will I remember the definition of obumbrate, thought I might be able to guess it based on its inclusion of “umbra,” which suggests darkness to me (I don’t quite know why, but if I “take umbrage,” I feel like a shadow is being cast).

If only language were the most important thing on my mind around the clock, I think I would be a happier human being. I would smile more frequently, in spite of the four-foot-wide diastema between my two top front teeth. Speaking of diastema, I wonder why the word always refers to space between the teeth in the upper jaw (at least that’s what I think of)? Is there a word for space between teeth in the lower jaw? I’m sure I could find out, if I had sufficient interest in the subject, but apparently I don’t, inasmuch as I’m ignoring the opportunity to look it up; Mother Google and Father Bing are right here at my fingertips, for God’s sake, yet I won’t take the time or energy to explore and thereby expand my knowledge. Quite the shame, it is, my mental slothfulness.

Everything I’ve written this morning, thus far, offers at least fragmentary evidence that I am either as dull as a soup knife or as stupid as a bowl of half-witted fungus. Nothing I’ve written has even a hair’s width of intellectual value. Even in a world in which the intellectual equivalent of porridge were considered mind-numbingly brilliant, my blather would be labeled insensate and boorish. Yet, still, he persists. Mindless drivel, flooding from his fingers in wave after wave after brain-stopping wave.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt an intense aversion to the suggestion that writers “ought” to “write what they know” and steer clear of venturing out to explore the unknown. I think the advice (which, despite hating it, I’ve sometimes bought into) is reasonable for low-creativity wannabe writers whose capabilities are apt never to reach the level of nearly adequate. But, for people who are at least moderately creative and who have spent their entire waking lives using their native languages, the advice is stifling and unnecessarily restrictive. The advice minimizes opportunities to make glaring mistakes and to learn from them. I know, I know. Who the hell am I to argue against advice that has, for years and years (perhaps centuries), been given by very good writers to others who want to be good writers? I can’t answer that question with anything remotely persuasive. But, still, I feel very strongly about it. In fact, I would encourage just the opposite; write what you DON’T know and then read what  you’ve written. You’ll quickly learn what sounds wrong; you’ll learn what to avoid in the future.

Okay. It would be nearly seven o’clock in the old scheme of time-keeping. But it’s only nearly six o’clock in the new scheme. I think it’s time for me to stop exercising my fingers and, instead, to start exercising my mind. Or, perhaps, exorcising my mind.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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