Daily Archives: August 6, 2009

onus

This is a word that says who the a**hole is who’s responsible. I don’t find it a pleasant word – in fact, I took an instant dislike to it when I first heard it in my youth. (I was not surprised to hear CBC’s Rich Terfry declare a dislike of it as well today.) It’s the word that beheaded your bonus. It has the obvious echo of anus, which, aside from being Latin for what everyone knows it means, is also a different Latin word meaning “old woman” – perhaps like the old woman who wags her finger and says “Oooooh! Own up!” This isn’t a broad word like blame or a panicker like fault (as in “It’s not my fault!” and with its echoes of halt and fall); it’s a prissy word, made for saying with a turd under the nose, and it comes complete with the Lain us ending to remind you that it’s an important word, come entirely unchanged from the mouths of the great Roman patricians. And it’s physically indexical and sonically iconic: the mouth starts with the pucker of disapprobation (as if booing) and then withdraws through a quick nasal tap of the tongue to the sustainable final hiss. The word as written could be rotated 180 degrees and look the same, except that where there’s o at one end there’s s at the other, like someone popped someone’s balloon. Oh, and whose fault was that? Hm! Don’t put the blame on us. Those tut-tutters think they own us.

curlicue

Such a Q-type word, and yet no q in it. Not to see, anyway; the cue may be referring to the letter Q – specifically the cursive capital, which is the curliest letter when done nicely, but can be more banal when done indifferently. I recall one of my junior high teachers explaining to us that the capital Q in handwriting looked like a 2 rather than a Q for some reason. The reason was simply failing to start the stroke far enough down, of course, but it took me a long time to see the Q in it (not as long as it took me to see the B in the logo for The Bay, though).

Well, so I missed my cue, but that’s a separate tale – and perhaps this cue is a separate tail, French queue; that’s the other possibility. One thinks of a pig’s tail. Which reinforces this word’s taste of barbecue, another often (but not always) q-less Q-type word (and that one has no q in its origin; it comes from a Caribbean word, barbacoa). But where that doll has Barbie, this stooge has Curly. And the curli here really is curly mutatis mutandis, a word that has always meant what it means and has changed only a little in form over the evolution of our language. Curl (verb) shows up in other Germanic languages as krollen, kröllen, and krullen. And we come back to food again, only this time to cruller, which does indeed come from the same source. Ah, doughnuts and smokepit hog: dude food, not so dainty as a curlicue, more a smorgasbord for a cur like you. Will you follow it with a liqueur? Maybe some curaçao?

Well, never mind – the sound of this word may almost show up in the middle of finger-lickin’, but in real life it has more to do with typography and design, and curl more with hair. There are a couple of little curls in it to see, the c and c, and the cu and cu look like clippings of ringlets on a barber’s floor. But the li in the middle? Only there to make the tip of your tongue curl up for a moment and lick your alveolar ridge.