There’s Gotta Be a Word for This

Pixabay StockSnap

Even at the depths of the COVID pandemic, I didn’t sit around and read dictionaries. Perhaps I should have, because I’ve been thinking about words a lot lately, but I didn’t.

Thinking about words…. I’ve been known to quote writer and historian Garry Wills who told us, “The problem with words is, they have meaning.” He had a point. We can’t use words indiscriminately making them mean what we want them to mean. They already have meaning even before I get to them. If I say “I love you,” I’m not merely filling the air with sound. The word “love” means something. Said honestly, those three words means a lot.

So I noticed when some Republicans who wanted dilute the violence of the January 6 assault on our nation, they changed the words. Rioters and thugs, killers and brutes, became (who could believe this?) “tourists visiting the Capitol.” The mob violence, by all definitions an insurrection, was transmuted in Republican speak to “a group of law-abiding Americans expressing themselves.”

C’mon on now. Words have meaning, and their meaning ought to be rooted in truth. We can put a little lipstick on the pig but it’s still a pig. How can words possibly accommodate changing “rioters and thugs” or “killers and brutes” into “tourists”? As nearly as I can tell, we can’t get there from here.

Just for our entertainment, here’s a word-based diversion: In The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koening collects real experiences for which no one has a perfectly good word. They add up to (his phrase) “obscure sorrows,” and Koening finds or creates words to convey those sorrows. For example, growing from thick German roots is this beauty: “mauerbauertraurigkeit, the inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like” — as if your social taste buds suddenly went sour. I didn’t know we needed a word for that but, just in case, we now have one.

(Incidentally, I really liked this one: “anecdoche, a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening.” I could have used that word for the past number of years to describe the experience of living in America.)

So why am I flailing around with weird words when I could be in the pool with my granddaughter or considering a visit to some imaginary place that’s COVID-free? This simple truth: No matter how hard I’ve tried, I can’t find a word that describes what I’m feeling. It’s becoming an obsession — oh, and by the way, most of you don’t have a word for it either.

For one thing, none of us have a word for how we feel because we’ve never quite felt like this before. This is uncharted territory. Vaguely frightened. Sort of scared. Mostly exhausted. Unable to make decisions. Drifting through days. Sleepless at night. Wondering about everything.

I won’t get direction or clarity from the “news,” so I’ve mostly stopped watching. MSNBC says Trump should be jailed and Biden should be praised. That makes sense to me, but neither is happening so, why bother?

On the next channel, Fox says vaccinations make you sterile or maybe dead. That’s handy, since it saves us confronting the reality that, while dodging coffins and body bags, it means we don’t owe anyone safety in our presence. We can be infected and boundlessly infect others. Oy. I think I have a word for this: treason.

Some days I feel like a badminton birdie getting slammed from one place to another, and I don’t even have a word for how that makes me feel. “Morally outraged” goes in the right direction. “Furious” occurs to me. But it’s frustrating to have no word that says I’m too tired to care and, at the same time, grief-stricken at the ignorance, dishonesty and collective evil seen daily as this pandemic continues to simmer.

Maybe I need a word that describes the Wonderland in which I’m Alice. I’m wandering through territory where right is left, up is down, truth as I’ve known it isn’t true, and the Cheshire Cat just mentioned that all the characters are mad.

According to opinion writers, the American economy is humming and people are spending, but despite it all the mood is “glum.” Glum. That may be close to what I feel. Morning, noon and night, all grey, all dull, all glum. That might work.

The New York Times says we’re all “trapped in a pandemic funk: Millions of Americans can’t shake a gloomy outlook.” Okay, maybe “glum,” maybe “gloomy,” maybe I’m just in a “funk.”

My life isn’t awful. I haven’t suffered COVID. I embrace one grandchild and have another on the way. I have friends I love and trust, some money in the bank and some food in the fridge. But none of this has changed the reality that I’m troubled, and don’t have a way to describe it.

My mother, known to engage happily in what might be called “therapeutic profanity” believed no woman should use certain crude terms. Maybe she was right. But let me borrow, for a moment, that 4-letter term for excrement. My feet are anchored in acres of the stuff; the stench is horrible; it’s neither solid nor liquid, and I can’t get out. I’m stuck in it.

Okay, your turn: Kindly, if you can, suggest a word for this.