suffer

It’s a soft word, with a whiffling of sound like passing in flannel through whispering wheat, but it refers to such a hard thing. Your will is a wick subject to suffocation under fate’s snuffer – what could be tougher? But you have no choice: you must suffer. The sounds begins to take on the aspect of the last wheezes of a person whose chest is being crushed.

Oh, it has not always been used to mean “endure something unpleasant”; it had a half-millennium of use to refer to simply allowing something that may not be so bad: Suffer the little children to come unto me. (Note, however, that suffrage comes not from suffer but straight from Latin suffragium, which meant what modern suffrage means.) But before, during, and after that period, suffer was also used to mean what we still use it to mean. And this verb can be intransitive or transitive – we typically now speak of suffering from something, but we can also suffer something. It is, suitably, taken from Latin sub “from below” plus ferre “bear” (noun). Yes, you’re going to carry that load, and we all have our crosses to bear, even as we can see two crosses in this word bent from bearing: f and f again.

And yet do all those crosses need to be borne? The most likely word to follow this one is needlessly – which, however, suggests that there is needed suffering too, or it would be a tautology. Disproportionately also comes up often, indicating that there’s a sense that suffering should be evenly distributed. Greatly, terribly, and financially also show up. The transitive version often brings in casualties. But more often it brings in fools – often with gladly, but we know that before it comes does not or something similar. And does not suffer fools gladly is usually code for “crusty, impatient, uncritical of self and hypercritical of others” – in other words, that sort of person we find we must on occasion suffer. But not gladly.

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