There are some words we only know from their shadows. These shadows lurk in common phrases. In fact, habitual expressions are the liquid amber that hardens around the shadow of words fallen or falling out of use. We talk of ‘unrequited’ love, the word ‘unrequited’ preserved in poetic animation. We do not tend to talk of ‘requited’ love. But shouldn’t we? Should we not urge one another to requite our love?
Love or ‘Luv’, as seminal 90s Christian Hip Hoppers DC Talk remind us, is a verb. Loving or ‘luving’ (don’t groan, you luv it really) is not just a fuzzy feeling, it’s a fuzzy action. The song reminds us to walk the walk. Getting on for 25 years later DC Talk hardly need to remind us that Love or Luv is a verb.
If the F word is one of our favourite adverbs, the L word must now be one of our favourite verbs. We love indiscriminately (can one love discriminately?) and incessantly (can one love cessantly?). Social media is a raging torrent of love posted and shared. We love traffic cones that look like people and people who look like traffic cones. We love shapes of potato crisps that were unknown to us mere moments before with a fervour only comparable to the conversion experience of Medieval Saints.
Maybe Toby Mac and the gang could return with a fresh track reminding us that ‘luv is a noun’. Love is not just something you can throw around but something you can hold, cherish, and give away and in the giving never lose. Unrequited love is haunting as it is the unexpressed. It is the mute observer. ‘Unrequited’ is a shadow word to describe a shadowy emotion. Unrequited love is ungiven, not exposed to the light. Love can be given away and never run out but can it be kept and always remain? It may will persevere, through gripping sharply to the one who loves. Where there is love, requited or not, there is always pain.
I reflect on shadow words as one has been rattling me recently. How often have you heard people say they have spent ‘an inordinate amount of time’ sorting their X, labelling their Y, looking though the pages of Q or concerned with P? Many of us will self deprecatingly use the word ‘inordinate’, myself included, to poke fun at ourselves and our obsessions/time keeping/interests/physical ailments. It is fun to add the grand sounding ‘inordinate’ to petty dawdling or rearranging.
Inordinate, like unrequited, is preserved for our use, but it is trapped behind the reflective orange sheen of amber. We can see it but we can’t get it out and handle it. ‘Inordinate’, from our angle, behind the additional layer of protective glass, means ‘too long.’ But if we were to pull inordinate out of the shadows we would see, under the penetrating spotlight of our gaze, the word ‘ordinate.’
Imagine, if you will (and you have to, unless you skip this paragraph… hang on come back, I’ll get to the socks I promise, in the ordinate amount of time) spending the ordinate amount of time sorting your CD collection. Or, spending the ordinate amount of time in the bathroom. Or how about the ordinate time spent perusing boutique pop up handcrafted upcycled locally sourced and socially conscious stalls? ‘Perusing’ is another fragment we should take under the spotlight of our glare. ‘Peruse’ is a word that has the privilege of meaning the opposite of how people tend to use it.
‘I’ll be home soon so I’ll have a peruse of the takeaway menu and text you my order.’
Will you indeed? Peruse is not a browse or a skim, peruse is to consider in detail and depth. Are you going to peruse all 162 options? One will have a hungry dinner companion. Ironic use of peruse for a ‘quick scan’ has twisted the word 180 degrees. People now use ‘peruse’ without irony to describe the opposite of what it originally meant. And speaking of shadows, we see the shadow side of our piercing gaze when a curious word is thus taken out of its exhibit. When a word is exposed to our harsh interrogation it gets handled roughly and starts deteriorating and reforming. At what point does ‘peruse’ simply change meaning? When it does we should accept it. Language is a river not a stagnant pond. You luv it really.
But the ‘ordinate’! If inordinate has often meant ‘too long’, does ordinate mean ‘just right’? No, the rough, unfamiliar edges of ordinate don’t allow us off that easy. ‘Ordinate’ is not simply the right amount, it is the ordained amount. If one spends an ordinate amount of time alphabetising one’s albums, one is an ordinand assailing a preordained mission. An ordained length of time is like an ordained person, appointed by some authority for some purpose.
So what about these socks then? I have been thinking about socks a lot recently. I have sometimes glibly said I spend an inordinate length of time deciding what socks to wear in the morning. What I mean by that is that I do more than put on the first pair that meets my beckoning hands. My socks have increased in quality, variety and style in recent years and this trend is only set to continue. As an adult British male I await with a mixture of resignation and quiet excitement, the deluge of socks that will meet me throughout my lifetime as relatives furnish me biannually (biennially, if my family were to opt for slippers or wallets on alternate years).
I have stripey socks, bamboo socks, socks that look like socks inside sandals. I have a lot of options. I like to approach socks as an accent colour, that perhaps matches a shirt or waistcoat. An ankle bone above a sensible brogue is the canvas upon which to apply a dazzling boutonnière, flashing in and out of site as one walks. Socks do not make the man. But socks can help unite the man. Upon reflection I have decided that I spend an ordinate amount of time choosing what socks to wear. I am not paralysed, I am happy to compromise, and it only takes a matter of seconds, but I have two feet needing shod and a palette of options at my disposal. It is ordained that I think about it.
Last weekend, in my purple pinstripe socks, I had the pleasure of visiting a local Mosque and Gurdwara. On top of the generosity and hospitality of the hosts, and the beauty of the buildings, I appreciated the socks on display. The requirement in a Mosque or Gurdwara to remove shoes, means socks are out in the open. I saw some fantastic examples, such as a pair with thick alternating bands of teal and plum. Muslims and Sikhs, I have discovered often have a very good sock game. To adopt the common vernacular: their hosiery is on point. The ordained instruction to remove one’s shoes has a playful aesthetic consequence. Interacting with a range of cultures is stimulating and necessary and I am grateful to the Mosque and Gurdwara for their warmth, offers of food, and friendliness.
So I am renewed in my commitment to spend an ordinate amount of time choosing what socks to wear in the morning. The trouble is, the day I write this, I have had to wear two odd socks, both fraying at the heel, pressed back into service from the pasture they had been in awaiting darning. Why? Because I have spent an inordinate amount of time doing the washing…