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When A Word Walks Out

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Just killed a word

Put a gun against its head,

Pulled my trigger, now it’s dead.

Apologies for messing with Freddie Mercury’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and anyway, that’s not what happened. The break-up came without my knowledge or consent. I killed nothing.

The truth: I lost a word today; don’t know how or why, or if this separation is final. I was taken aback; there was no foreshadowing. To borrow a line from the Dick Tracy comics I read as a boy: What the—?

If you saw my missing word, you’d think, no big deal. But it means a lot to me, and I like having it around. I’d hoped to plant it—right about here—to give my writing some style and class. So, I’m smarting from the loss, hoping I can recover it after a few more paragraphs or at least before I finish.

It’s my favorite word, you see, one I imposed on my students to remind them they were in college. It’s multisyllabic, I recall, and somewhat swanky, yet not hoity toity or a gaudy word that would make you think I’m showing off. But using it made me feel smart, that I sounded smart. 

I’m suffering now that my favorite word has fled like a lover tiptoeing out in the night, leaving no note, just an impression in the pillow, a void in my vocabulary. 

Oh, my favorite word, where have you gone? I miss you so. I’ll take you back, no questions asked.

Jewish Guilt is already riding me relentlessly over this, warning that if I don’t change my ways other valued words will haul ass and walk out.

It’s your fault. A word doesn’t just vanish without…well…a word. There has to be a reason. You must have done something to piss it off. You bozo, you must have misspelled it or used it in an ungrammatical sentence or as a verb when… quite clearly it’s a noun!

Aha, a clue. I do seem to recall my missing word is a noun. Now we’re getting somewhere. And I do remember the word relates to coming together, an agreement along the lines of quid pro quo.

Keep politics out of it.

 What I mean is it may refer to something mutualistic.

Hold it right there. You can’t use mutualistic. Don’t you remember? It resigned from your blog, stormed out in protest when you over-exposed it in a sentence that was grossly pretentious.

A suffix, though. I seem to recall the missing word having an osis on its butt. Psychosis? Fibrosis? Osmosis? Tuberculosis? Now I’m really lost. 

“And another thing...”

That nag Jewish Guilt again.

“What are you doing announcing this word is your favorite in the first place? Publicly like this? What if your other words get wind? Egos bruise easily. There could be a mass exodus.”

I hadn’t thought of that. I do have other favored words I dare not offend. What if they, too, vanish? Yikes! is one I use often.

“Some would say too often.”

All right, but I can’t resist. I’d be severely constrained without Yikes! C’mon, an exclamation point not preceded by a word?

“And talk about overkill, there’s your repeated reliance on Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ as a metaphor. My God, man, throw in another play once in a while, if only to show you’re not totally illiterate. You have something against Mamet?”

This is so frustrating. Here I am, mid-way through this blog, and still no missing word, though I’ve showed I still care, setting aside this space (insert missing word) just in case it shows up. 

You can appreciate my angst. It’s one thing to lose a word the way we forget names. My recurring fear is attending a social gathering and going blank on names I should remember, then trying to finesse it (well, my friend, long time no see) while knowing they know I have no clue. I’ve been losing names for decades, however, so that is no big deal.

But losing a word is much scarier with geezerhood galloping toward me like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Losing a word could be a step toward a memory abyss. Jewish Guilt may be on to something. Will other words soon abandon me like rats on a sinking blog. Will I soon be reduced to muttering dis and dat like a broken-nosed gorilla in a gangster movie? Or communicating as tersely as the cemetery dead in “Our Town?”

A friend assured me that losing a word is not necessarily calamitous. Gone for a day or two, even a week, not to worry, he said, “as long as you ultimately remember it.”

Yes, that’s the ticket. So, I’ve been laser-focusing on ultimate recovery, trying out numerous word fusions and coming-together phrases to jumpstart my memory, poring over synonyms and this osis and that osis as fast as my fingers can Google, while also hitting Webster’s and Roget’s.

And it’s coming…I do believe it’s coming…the veil lifting. At last I have it. Syllables intact, the elusive word has returned, back to stay, I hope. And just in time to crash my last line.

Yikes! That was some close call. 

Jewish Guilt, take a bow. You and I are stormy, bickering adversaries in every way, but we always set aside our differences and collaborate when it’s mutually beneficial. Together, you might say, we form a perfect…

Symbiosis.

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About The Author:

Howard Rosenberg

Howard Rosenberg

Howard Rosenberg spent 28 years as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California and 25 years as TV critic for the Los Angeles Times, where he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He also authored the nationally syndicated cartoon strip, "Airwaves.” Rosenberg published two non-fiction books and a novel. He presently is wrapping a second novel while working on leakage control and recovery of lost words.

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