Disappearing Hand Sanitizer

A friend who knows about these things told me that the Library of Congress has gotten rid of hand sanitizers. This was not because the LOC found itself to be germ-free. Or that they wanted their patrons to pass on whatever illnesses they might be carrying. Problem was, it was disappearing, as in stolen. With a little detective work, it turned out that it was being turned into liquid (adding a certain common household chemical turns the gel to liquid) and drunk. By, presumably, people who are extremely dedicated to the sanitizing of their innards.

In Praise, Sort of, of Profanity

I am not an apologist for snark—Stark, yes—but not snark. And I’m not going to argue that profanity—cussing as this young fellow, featured on a recent story on NPR has it—

I think David Denby and others are right that discourse—or some of it—has deteriorated in the digital culture.

But all of that aside, it seems to me that there are distinct and visceral pleasures—an onomatopoetic expression of sensation merged with the physical sensation of its experience. The two most popular “cuss” words, it would seem to me, are the S-word and the F-word. And both can be deployed in a variety of ways that are entirely irrelevant of their dictionary definitions and to express a wide variety of emotions. (And a lot of times can be used with a lassitude that labels the user as stupid and inarticulate.)

Explosively expressive 

The thing about these two words in particular, and some others—the B-word, for example—is the sheer physicality of their use. In linguistic terms, most of the tastiest profanity is loaded with plosives, or little sudden stops in giving breath to a sound, as in sudden halting of the final consonant of the S-word. Ditto the final consonant of the F-word. They’re also loaded with fricatives, in which the voicing of the consonant sound is more or less crushed upon its escape—between teeth, between lips and teeth, between tongue and palate or tongue and teeth. Which also occurs in these two words (ditto the B-word). You have the fricative at the beginning of the monosyllable, F forced between the upper teeth and lower lip, and then a satisfying middle period of pure sound that’s almost groan and uses pretty much the entirely of the mouth, and then it’s suddenly halted by the back of the mouth by the tongue—K, which also has a fricative quality.

So you’re hammering a nail and miss and your errant thumb just happens to be the recipient of the hammer’s blow. Seems to me that that sort of monosyllabic expression, with all its rough edges and sibilance, is very close to an onomatopoetic expression of the similar physical sensation currently being expressed by the neurons in the thumb.

So should I use these and other colorful words as much as I do? No. And why have I not used them here? Do demonstrate their power. You know what I’m talking about. 

Which sort of goes to what the young man in the video above—in his NPR interview—says about “dang is okay.”
Persephone’s Box says in this post:

“Why are replacement words like “fudge” or “frigging” or “cheese and rice” or “heck” or “gall darn it” or “sugar” considered better than the actual terms when we all know that’s what you’re really thinking? I don’t think they are any better.”

But the kid has gotten “death threats.” What a bunch of toadsuckers there are out there.

Is Literature Fundamentally about Grief?

All the new thinking is about loss. In this it resembles all the old thinking. –fr. “Meditation at Lagunitas,” by Robert Hass

The idea has been percolating in my head for some time now that a serious component of most, if not all, literary fiction–and that may also include poetry–is fundamentally underlaid by grief.

If not the search for lost time, then the attempt to regain it, place some animal moment in amber and crystallize it.
I am only speaking for myself here, but I had one of those moments, not too long ago, where a revelation is visited upon you that makes your head snap back. For me, that revelation came in the form of a short story by my kindergarten best friend, Paul Witcover, that is nominally about the summer of his mother’s death, and then later a conversation with a wise lady who gently pointed out to me–when I protested I was not grieving yet, because my father hadn’t yet died (he has now)–that grief tends to surround us. That every path taken represents a lot of paths not taken, and that those paths left to go fallow can be the genesis of griefs large and small.  Continue reading