moribund

I stopped by my friend Maury’s place the other day just as he was anticipating the results of some baking. As I entered, I thought I caught a whiff of scorched cake. I ranged myself against a counter to watch him exhume a fluted tube pan from its crematorium. As Maury inverted the Bundt cake – what was left of it – on a rack, I opened my mouth to comment, and he turned and said, tensely, “Don’t-even-say-it.”

But moribund has a certain something to it, doesn’t it? It seems to have more rebound than some words (even if its objects have missed their final rebound), with the lips–tongue–lips–tongue, and nasal–liquid–stop–nasal and stop. If you say it in the usual fashion, with the i lax and underpronounced, it’s quite dominated by some of the more sepulchral vowel sounds we have, especially with the nasal. It’s a word headed for death, and stopping at the [d] (because I could not stop for death, it kindly stopped at d…). Of course, it’s seldom used literally now; it’s more likely seen with such as economy and industry.

I reflected further as I scanned Maury’s interior decorations. He had a picture of the old European riverfront section of Shanghai, famous for its commerce and nightlife in the 1930s, moribund under Mao, now very much on the rebound: a river of bright lights, in fact. “Nice picture of the Bund, Maury,” I said. He peered at me over the tops of his glasses.

My vision strayed to the splayed flowers in a dish on his table. “Moribana?” I asked. They did not seem to be doing so well; they were perhaps closer to icky than to ikebana. Maury strolled over, looked at the flowers – bound for glory, as the saying goes, only without the glory – and looked at me. And didn’t say anything. At. All.

Well, it must be difficult for Maury, having a name that recalls the Latin root for “die,” mori. I try to be sensitive; I’ve stopped calling every gift and postcard I get from him a memento Maury. But he doesn’t make it any easier for himself, either.

On this particular day, he wanted to show me a new tuxedo he’d bought. He came out from his bedroom in the full-on suit complete with cummerbund and black bowtie (real, not clip-on, give the guy credit), and he was holding a martini glass. “Bond,” he said, “Maury Bond.”

And then paused. And winced.

I pointed at his waistine, of which there was more than before, and, indicating the pleated cloth thereon, asked, “Moribund?”

He raised his martini hand. Straightened his arm. Pointed his index finger to the door.

“One more pun, and…”

He sighed, gave up, and went to refill his glass.

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