f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Word Game

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Word Game

One of my favorite words in the English language is milquetoast.

Using Joe Faust’s handy link to the online etymology dictionary I discover that the word is derived from a 1920s comic character created by H. T. Webster. In thinking about his character, a timid soul, Webster must have decided to simply link two very unassuming words (milk-toast) as examples of things that would never offend anyone. There’s a subtle genius there.

I could take this post down the road of naming our characters but I don’t think I will. Instead, I want to lament the English language a moment. It’s really not conducive to shorthand illumination of the subtleties of life. Unlike the Germans and their schadenfreude, say, we don’t have many of these magical words that mean bizarre but very tenable things.

The Atlantic Monthly has a column/game where folks try to create these kinds of words. I thought I’d rip them off for a moment and give you all a quick challenge, should you be so engaged.

I’ve been watching The Office recently on DVD. This is a BBC mockumentary set in a fictional paper company. It’s pitch-perfect brilliance. Laughed out loud more than I have in a long time. Also cringed a lot in pained sympathetic embarrassment for one of the characters. That’s the feeling for which I want a word. (Assuming there isn’t already a word. There may be and I’ve just not remembered it. Which would be embarrassing for me. And maybe you’re all at home doing whatever-that-word-is right on my behalf right now.) I want to know what to call the moment when you’re watching someone make an ass out of themselves and your stomach knots up and you just want to look away.

Anyway if you want to come up with a term, that’d be super. You could win a book maybe!

So that’s it for this week. No post tomorrow. Monday it’s on to nuns and poetry with Lying Awake. See you then.