pacific

This word has a sea of collocations, nearly all of which go with the proper noun taken from it (rim, standard time, islander, northwest, and quite a few others, including, of course, Ocean; blockade, on the other hand, can pair with the lower-case version). Many people might easily forget – or never know in the first place – that it is a common adjective, too, and not one to do with water per se. The word seems somewhat soft, thanks to the two fricatives in the middle, but with the stops at either end it gains an acuity – perhaps it seems more specific. All the consonants are voiceless, making a white noise perhaps a bit like a sea sound heard at a distance. It leads off with a p, proper and patrician or popular and pretty, let your taste decide. But the most interesting sight is the palindrome cific. Is this like a wave? Two portholes with a funnel? Or a train engine of the eponymous class? Perhaps the f is a palm tree and the i‘s are islands, all surrounded by open c. And when one thinks of the Pacific Ocean, does one think of a peaceful, calm body of water? Well, Ferdinand Magellan did, as that was how it was when he first got there in 1520, and so the Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish soon came to call it the Mar Pacifico. But how do we get from “peaceful” to pacific or pacifico? Well, Latin for “peaceful” is pacificus, from pax. Ironically, this sea that was a major theatre of the Second World War is an adjectival form and near-twin of pacifism. But have you ever thought of pacifism when seeing the name Pacific? Just what effect do these overtones and echoes have? Well, somewhat more when you think of them, that’s for sure. And what might be the unconscious influences of these unnoticed hints and aftertastes? A very good question indeed.

One response to “pacific

  1. Pingback: irenic | Sesquiotica

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