Apr 9, 2014

Just Try Not to Eat my Boots In Your Sleep

Travel to the Orchard takes days now that Wiseman’s machines patrol the sky. It’s fifty miles of mud and mosquitoes and swamp rot.

After dinner, Cobble and I sit down to memorize the forbidden words. If we speak any two of them within twenty-four hours, the world will unravel somehow.

Art by Rodney Matthews

Before I wrote the actual prompt, I sat down and put together the table of forbidden words.
Diatom
Deliquesce
Disinter
Obsolete
Ingrained
Turnstile
Phrenologist
Travail
Iridescent
Garbled
Covalent
Jockey
Palladium
Singsong
Defenestrate
Mentholated
Odoriferous
Terminus
Neurotic
Phosphorescent
Proem
Impertinent
Schadenfreude
Aquifer
Piquant
Cormorant
Euphoria
Forecastle
Stigmata
Procrustean
Calaboose
Gallant
Mercenary
Recidivist
Panglossian
Encomium

I thought to myself as I conceived this prompt: Wouldn't the act of memorizing so many unusual, infrequently-used words make the characters more likely to blurt them out?

Phrenologist, Schadenfreude, Panglossian and Procrustean are indissociable from Western culture on Earth, so this story-seed does not necessarily play out on a different planet. Maybe an alt-Earth in the future? Your choice.

Phrenology was, by and large, invented by Franz Joseph Gall (d. 1828), whose most remarkable ideas have now been discredited. The main tenet of phrenology was that a shapely head indicated a healthy, well-adjusted personality; criminals and the mentally disabled, therefore, would exhibit misshapen skulls. In short, ugliness was a crime, a disease, or both.

"Franz Joseph Gall examining the head of a pretty young girl."

Schadenfreude is a German loan word. When you take pleasure in someone's bad luck, what you feel is Schadenfreude. When you watch compilations of driving accidents in Russia on YouTube, and derive a certain glee from that, I guess schadenfreude is involved as well.

Panglossian refers to Dr. Pangloss, a character in Voltaire's comedic bildungsroman, Candide. Pangloss maintains that this world of ours is the best of all possible worlds. Candide faces great adversity throughout the novel to finally conclude that the world is mostly OK. 

Procrustean is an adjective derived from the fabled Procrustes, who only liked people of a certain size, I suppose. If his overnight guests did not exactly fit the bed Procrustes had for them, he would either have them stretched or chop off their lower extremities. An expedient man, though far from an ideal host. But they didn't have Yelp or Metacritic back then! Alas.

And I sign off with a video for people who like to play with words, from the crazy imaginative Rathergood.

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