What difference a phoneme makes. When the tongue is at the ready, tip touching behind the teeth, a hissing slurp of saliva starting, you can say sapid and the sense is savoury, but when the teeth bite the lower lip, the start of a pugnacious grimace or the first gesture of a foul or vile word, and in releasing you give nothing but a dry breath, the taste has evaporated to vapid. Like wine that has exhaled its vapour: that is how the Romans put it, vapidus. And it is now a member of two tribes, words that begin with stressed va (among which are vanish, vandal, and vampire, but also valid and valiant) and words that end with pid (such as stupid and lipid but also rapid and Cupid). The pid sits there like a sidewalk spinner sign, waiting for a dry breeze to disperse its message to passers-by; the v would seem to be like a tooth biting at the lip. But the breeze is dull and the bite is pavid; how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable it all seems now. The thrill of an avid diva is dampened with p. How tasteless.

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