Rue the Day

Placed several irons in the fire recently. I wonder if I am going to rue the day. Rue the day is a lovely turn of phrase isn’t it? Combining the poet’s sensibilities with the the comic’s flair for melodrama. Rue. The word reaches back to the Old English hreow, relative of the Old High German hriuwa — sorrow. In French, it’s a street or avenue. In the plant world, a medicinal herb, bittersweet and native to the Balkan peninsula. The Romans believed its aromatic leaves could sharpen vision, address hysteria, cure vertigo . See how these many disparate meanings meet and mingle? Making unto themselves a new kind of sense. For sorrow too is an avenue. Its bittersweetness and tears a cleansing, necessary, orienting force of healing. Rue. A word so much more lyrical and layered than regret. A word one can hold up like a prism, turn it this way and that, delighting in the way it refracts the light. A word that is not meant to be pocketed placidly like change.

Placid. This word feels flat and colorless to me. Its stillness more sedated than serene. Its composure owing itself to dullness not discipline. A word incapable of any adventure. To ‘go placidly amidst the haste,’ is not something I aspire to [apologies to Max Ehrmann.] Perhaps it is the nearness to the word flaccid that does it in for me. Sometimes the mere rhymeyness of a word with another can unexpectedly drive down its market value. This is I realize, a rather judgmental and gentrified approach to vocabulary.

I ought to reform my ways. As a philosophy, it is unattractive to insist that fine words live in gated communities, away huddled masses, the hoi-polloi, the rabble rousers, the riff and also the raff. Words, unlike people, do not have the tendency to judge one another. Nor do they attempt to dominate or discriminate against their neighbors. If you have doubts about this, simply study the dictionary and take note of the admirable diversity in all its neighborhoods.Alphabetization as a form of organization is rather revolutionary. It parks princes and paupers in the same zipcode without embarrassment or apology.

Any bias that I may have against words with inelegant associative rhymes, is a fault in my stars not theirs. It is my human mind with its unfortunate conditioning that clamps preferences down on things that are not inherently likable or dislikable. They just are. Divorced from my interpretations of the inchoate babbling of my senses perhaps I would be more free to — go placidly amidst the noise and haste.

For now I will settle instead, for going however I happen to go. Hopefully learning a little something along the way. And stopping whenever appropriate, to rue the day.

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