Wordy words

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on June 08, 2018 Published on June 08, 2018

Illustration: Manjula Padmanabhan

Bins and I are out on a walk when an older couple passes us. The woman is dressed in a way that radiates wealth. She is wearing white-on-white slacks, blouse and broad-brimmed hat but it is as if every thread has been dipped in diamond-dye, its whiteness is so exclusive and extreme. We find ourselves mildly suffocated in the wake of her perfume.

“Foof,” I say. “She must have poured a whole bottle on herself!” Bins gives a sudden chuckle and says, “Sillage!” I look at him in surprise. “Don’t you mean extravagant, rather than silly?” This makes him beam. “I said SILLAGE not SILLY,” he says. “It means the trail of scent left by someone or something.” I look blank, so he explains, “Don’t you remember? You had that ridiculous book? Full of international crazy-words? That would expand your vocabulary and bring about world peace?”

A faint memory stirs. “Um, yes,” I say, uncertainly. “But I’ve forgotten all of them.” “Well, I haven’t!” crows Bins in triumph. “I decided to memorise them just to prove they are really not worth knowing. For instance, I am a NEMOPHILIST but you are not! So you will not feel any VORFREUDE — or joyful anticipation — when I suggest that we go for a walk in the woods.” I make a face at him. “The idea was to learn interesting words in order to expand your knowledge, not provide you with verbal ammunition!”

“You’re just feeling jealous of my superior memory,” he says. “You lack SOPHROSYNE — a healthy state of mind.” He’s getting a huge charge out of this exchange. “It’s like I told you when you bought that book,” he says. “It was a good example of TSUNDOKU — buying books that you will never read!” “Bless you,” I say. “Why?” he asks. “Because you sneezed,” I say. “No, I didn’t,” he responds, looking annoyed. “That was one of the words, TSUNDOKU.”

“Are you coming in for a cold?” I ask him, “you sneezed again!” “Not at all,” he snorts. “You are practising OSTRANENIE — presenting common things in an unfamiliar way just to confuse me!” “How can I confuse someone with such a brilliant memory?” I want to know, grinning. “You are suffering from severe ACATALEPSY, disbelief in certainty,” Bins thunders. “Or else, you are a true NEFELIBATA, a cloud-walker with whom I do not share the slightest WELTANSCHAUNG!”

“Well, I’m certainly feeling a strong sense of FERNWEH,” I say, remembering one of the words. “An ache for distant places. Meaning ‘home’ in this instance. Let’s go back. We’ve walked far enough today.” Bins looks morose. “We can never go back to the past,” he says, darkly. “All living things experience a constant state of HIRAETH — homesickness for the home that can never be returned to.”

“Ooh... deep!” I say, as we retrace our steps. Soon enough we encounter the sillage left by the Lady In White. “Foof!” I say once again. “It’s a total gas-attack!” “Yah,” agrees Bins. “No special words needed! Plain old skunky.”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on June 08, 2018
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