Oct. 30 2002 12:00 AM

Lost and found: A discovery while trying to save the world

Writing is a lot like drinking; I get a couple pieces under my belt and I start feeling real good. So good that last week I dragged out an old short story I've been working on for years, thinking that if I chopped it up as neat and quick as a newspaper column, there'd be a good chance of actually finishing it.

The whole point of the story is to put a new word into the English language, based on a small theory of mine. Judging by the time spent on it already, and knowing that this newfound sense of confidence does not necessarily translate into instant success, I've decided to jump the gun and begin the campaign here. Odds are more people will read this paper than any literary journal I'd be lucky enough to land in anyway.

The word's discovered by a Linguistador, toiling away in the Wordsworth building, a small town library tucked away in Vermont. Unused words slip down into its cellar with only a slight popping sound to announce their arrival, and once there, transmute into wrought iron carcasses-a series of curved ribs attached to a spine whose length is comparable to the length of the word.

They tend to cling to similar words, either alphabetically, or in the same family. Once they do, the ribs intertwine and exert pressure on one another until they fall apart and disintegrate into a fine, pumice-like powder, which covers the place and everything in it. They can be put back together again at recognizable points of deterioration, as one would do a Jumble puzzle, but the longer the word, the less likely this happens, because of the infinite possibilities, at which point the word is lost forever.

Separated prior to deterioration, words are carted up into the library, cleaned, and put back into circulation through usage. Most tend to be technical and are placed in trade journals. The others are sent to authors, who are asked to use them in their writings for a small stipend.

Sometimes words don't cling to family members or to other words starting with the same letter. This phenomenon is every Linguistador's dream, for when this happens, new words are formed. Though it happens frequently, few of them are ever discovered-in most cases they disintegrate without ever being retrieved.

My Linguistador makes such a discovery in his twilight years, after struggling in obscurity. The word is found sheltered by “medicament,” anything used for curing, healing or relieving pain, and “Omphalopsychite,” one of a sect of mystics who practice sitting with their eyes fixed on their navels, hence the expression of contemplating one's navel. Once uncovered, he relishes the moment, caressing its spine to seek meaning. The word is “medibation,” a form of mental masturbation.

Now my theory: We medibate constantly, though few ever admit to this freely, for we take ourselves too seriously and deny this kind of frivolity. Why do we do it? Because it feels good. It gets us through our lives and makes us feel important. It also helps to fill the time. Talk radio and television are two prime examples, all that yackety-yakking, as if someone had something important to say, when it's the echo of their own voice that they love.

Philosophy's another example, interesting stuff, but you still have to get up in the morning and go to work. Religion, too, as well as praying, meditating, chanting or whistling past the graveyard. I'm not knocking these things, I'm just drawing on their commonality while trying to appease my Joycean complex. Art? Yes. Sports? Ditto. So is this column, perhaps the biggest offender of all, but at least we now have a word that says so.

We all stroke ourselves accordingly to suit our needs, thinking we have some great cosmic insight that guides us where others fear to tread; it's what we do the moment we open our mouths to espouse, decry, explain or otherwise try to validate an opinion. It's what makes us unique and keeps us at each other's throat. Aren't we all ticked to find someone thinking they know more than we do, arching our backs like cats, ready to pounce and sink claws?

The next time you find yourself embroiled in one of those hot, political discussions, don't get upset, folks, just think of all those needless seeds swimming haphazardly out into the void, one thought leading to another like waves toward a pleasant beach. In the end, we know it doesn't matter, but it is better than being stuck with ourselves. The only real chance of escape is in silence. This knowledge usually comes to us late at night, when the world beds down to sleep and the mind stops working. You know what I mean: that split second when everything seems so clear you can actually hear the clock ticking on the wall, mingled with the humming sound of your refrigerator, when for the first time in years you recognize the real color of the paint on the wall and realize that no matter what you do, you're still going to die. At moments such as this, it isn't even such a frightening thought, now is it?

In the larger scheme of things, our time is rather insignificant, and yet we go on, doing what it is we think we should be doing, even if it is just medibation. There's a whole language out there we've created to help us to accomplish this, with any luck, now enlarged by one more word. Use it freely, amongst friend and foe, if only because it feels good. After all, it's the only real weapon we have to fight with-that and hope. Even the Greeks knew that, but where'd it get them?


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