Apr 22, 2016

Obituary for an Adverb

Men called it Athwart. Once it walked proudly as a warrior among warriors, an adverb among adverbs. But it came to serve a purpose so obscure, so clad in ninefold darkness, that in modern times you could not find that purpose without a 1,500-watt metal halide lamp.

Nobody knew what it did anymore when, around 1915, Athwart retreated to the Orkneys to live among the seals. Or Svalbard, perhaps.

It came from Old Norse stock, with the mighty Thverr for a grandsire, and never lost that cold edge you need to sail the treacherous seas and suffer the chill Atlantic fogs. When red the blood coursed in Athwart's veins it bred with nouns and prepositions. Thus the seaworthy vocable, the broad-shouldered if ungainly word, athwartships, came into this world.

Athwart. Child of a time when blades spoke more often than tongues and only the stars traveled the sky-roads. Explorers fade from memory and so fade their particular yearnings. No dragons populate the edges of this Earth. The dragons have flown to outer space.

Maybe Athwart will come back from a long winter sleep and bring with it a host of forgotten words when the bold and the hungry find themselves on the first ship bound for an alien, life-giving star.

Ettore Aldo del Vigo