[lit-ideas] Re: Do You Have an Urgency?

  • From: David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 15 Aug 2006 12:22:55 -0700

On Aug 14, 2006, at 9:22 PM, David Ritchie wrote:

What's an urgency? It's what you have when you feel the need to contact an administrator, as evidenced in the following note, I've come home to:

... away from my desk until Monday...However, if you have an urgency, please contact [name deleted] and
she can contact me by phone.

Allow me to elaborate. "Urgency" used as a noun to denote an urgent need or situation can be found in the OED, listed as first used in 1647. However I had never heard or seen it used this way. Have you? On reflection, I think it might well be a good word to revive and I regret implicitly criticizing something just because it was new to me. An "urgency"--something important but which falls short of the criteria for an emergency. Well done, that administrator.

While I had the dictionary out, I checked on a couple of other queries that had come up. Driving through a high desert that was studded with sage, I felt the urge to call the landscape "chaparral" and even--memories of childhood television here--"High Chaparral." Wrong. The defining characteristic of chaparral is the evergreen oak. One may, by extension, call a landscape dotted with tangled brushwood and thickets, "chaparral" but sage desert must be called something else. What though? If chaparral comes from the Spanish perhaps we should look to Spanish for an answer, but I can't get any kind of T.V. show name from "Artemesia, una especie parecida, arbusto." Maybe I need more contact with vaqueros, about whom thus far in life Frederic Remington has been my out-of-date guide. (What a weird read he is!)

On the subject of good weird reads, I have two to recommend. Karl Sabbagh, "A Rum Affair; A True Story of Botanical Fraud," is in the now somewhat tired category of book, the "gee-whizz, I didn't know the history of science was so interesting" genre that Dava Sobel started. And I should--disclosure--say that I am biased in the book's favor because the academic dispute that is at the tale's core concerns the flora of an island very close to where my great-grandfather lived. But with those caveats, I recommend you seek the story out. It's currently being remaindered, so you'll not have to pay much. Don Watson, "Death Sentences" is also on remainder lists. Watson was a speech writer for Paul Keating, one of Australia's prime ministers. In that role he was often asked to translate civil service language into English. "Death Sentences" is him letting off steam after years of exposure to "Outcomes Assessment" and "shared understanding of core initiatives." I find it funny and invigorating.

Final thought, different subject, more of a theological whimsy actually. When my temperature rises with a fever, my mind wanders and then sometimes catches on something, very much in the way that driftwood catches on obstacles--flow, flow, flow...snag. I snagged on "prelapsarian." It comes from Latin pre, before, lapsus, the fall, thus the state of being before the fall. But "the fall" is a long way in English from "the lapse"; complete downfall and confusion against slight moral slip-up. So there, in near-delerium, lay I wondering about a central tenet of Christianity...was Eve's sin actually a fall or a lapse? I mean if you're going to call the first lapse, "the fall," what term do you reserve for mass murder and all that follows? "Sin." That doesn't sound right. There should be a progression of sound, "fall," "more thunderous and frightening term," "yet more thunderous term," "mass murder." "Sin?" Entirely too tinny. (Oblique Monty Python reference).

There, I'm back and up with your debate. Except I haven't told Geary to stay (but I will now), or insulted anyone, or said anything about wandering around the house naked carrying buckets of ice. There are limits.

David Ritchie,
Portland, Oregon

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