Friday, February 6, 2009

Velcro Words

I have just coined this term, if anyone else has already coined it too bad. Mine.
[ It occurs to me I'm going to get legal hate from the Velcro people.
Oh like they're going to notice. I wish. Anyway "Hook-and-Loop fastening Words" has no panache.]
Etymology: derives from "velcro tune, " another term I like to think of as mine, those little melodies that once lodged in the brain become a form of torture.
Its a small world after all, its a small world after all...
You're welcome.
Velcro words are, however, largely benign, and the associations are pleasant if distracting. They are words that stick to the brain. Little cockleburrs attracted to our mental fluff, our grey matter (so much less icky to think of it as fur)
xanthium strumarium

The generation of Velcro Words is user specific. They are attracted to whatever makes you tick: hobby, vocation, belief system, anything. If you're a word person it can be any savory word, snood, archipelago, mortician, rampart, imperative. For me its usually costume related: textiles, sewing tools and methods, archaic garments, accessories, fastenings...
No wonder I chose "velcro." A reflexive Velcro Word!

Photo from Wikipedia. Caption reads: The hairshirt of St. Joseph of Leonessa (d. 1612) in the Church of Giuseppe in Leonessa, Italy.
aka cilice [SILL-iss], hair-cloth, sackcloth....! So that's what sackcloth is.

So the word that prompted this musing was "hairshirt." [Thank you, Word Mechanic] I first encountered this word, I don't know, junior high? I ran to the dictionary. I was that kind of kid. A word nerd. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, smart people, the Bible -- these are all we had before Google and Wikipedia. For those who are not word nerds, religious fanatics, or seminary students, a hairshirt is a purposely uncomfortable garment worn in penitence for real or imagined sins. Popular in the Old Testament, and the Middle Ages, when guilt was an international sport. The Hebrews wore them publicly as part of the mourning ritual [the sackcloth and ashes thing]. In the Middle Ages you were supposed to wear them secretly, under your clothes and armor and whatnot, but I'm betting that penitents engaged in hairshirt oneupmanship.
Enough about that. Back to the velcro. Velcro Words become enmeshed because they excite the imagination and stimulate a cascade of questions. Little bolts of electricity go darting off to other word files. Smoke rises from your brain.
Mine went something like this:
Hairshirt...was it kind of like burlap? what kind of hair? human or animal? camel hair? [I preferred to think human. As it turns out, I was wrong. Usually goat hair] whose hair? did it have to be your own, or a family member's? did people sell their hair to hairshirt makers? [bzzzzt bloodbank spermbank ] did one donate it to the cause ? is that what they did with novitiates' hair when it was cut off?[bzzzzt A Nun's Story audrey hepburn romanholidaygregorypeck tokillamockingbird ...] RESET
who made hairshirts? did you have to make your own? did someone make a living selling them, and did they sell other penitiential gear? [bzzt cat-o-nine-tails, thorny crown] was the shirt woven or knitted? how thick was the yarn? how was it spun? [bzzzt drop spindle, dreidel, lap loom, pot holder] was it dyed, or was that considered frivolous? maybe they dyed it with blood? did they come in sizes? were the sizes deliberately mislabeled to maximize discomfort? did you wear it bathing, not that there was much bathing going on...did one forswear bathing to keep the shirt dry, or use hot water to make it shrink and embed itself...let's not go there/RESET wait, did anyone die from a hairshirt, like an infection or something?
I should note at this point that I'm not Catholic. Why I knew things like all that when I was 11, I have no idea. I used words like forswear in conversation. I did not get asked out a lot. A word nerd is above all else a nerd.
One of the joys of velcro words and the questions they raise is that the questions are often subliminal. Years later, one reads or sees something and BLAM you think "So that's what that was referring to..." [Note: "sackcloth" above was a BLAM].
The Him refers to these as "lightbulb moments" and did so long before Oprah sullied it with self-improvement (go wear a hairshirt and leave our words alone!). His favorite involved a Monty Python bit, "...are all your pets named Eric? ...Kamal Ataturk had an entire menagerie named Abdul..." which produced a BLAM decades later when he read an article in National Geographic that biographied Kemal Ataturk.
Yes I just used biography as a verb. Horrible but oh so satisfying. I will get hate mail for that. GOD I love English.
In closing, this is not a cockleburr [source]:
I thought it was an animal, perhaps related to this. And I was scared.

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