I was commenting today, apropos a certain situation that had occurred, that there may not have been a possible optimal result, and that what was left was debating whether we had managed the least pessimal result.

Ah, one doesn’t want to be pessimistic, but, in the absence of efficacious pessomancy (divination by means of pebbles), one has to perform a calculus, not necessarily to the last decimal, but at least to avoid decimation… What will prevent pessundation (destruction) to the extent possible? And do you simply get depressed, or do you get on a pess (church kneeler, also hassock) and petition? Il faut peser les choses… (one must weigh matters…)

And as you watch each mile pass, wondering whether you will leap or miss, you may feel like a sap if you smile, for how could it be as simple as all that? But somehow you must impel your ass and hope not to make the same slip as you have before… If only you didn’t feel so mixed up…

I think pessimal is an underused word. It’s the nice opposite to optimal, after all, and pessimum to optimum, just as pessimist is to optimist. But somehow the optics of optimal are worth opting for, while pessimal just gets a pass – or at best is used piecemeal. Pity, since we spend so much time in our lives trying to find the lesser of two (or more) evils.

The word even looks fairly right. You can see the ss like the cartoon symbols of foul smell from some fetid mess. (And they give that nice hissing sound that allows one to express disapproval quite effectively even in the saying of the word.) Its p is like a thumbs-down, too. I can’t account for the i and the l, though – they’re like flowers growing through the pavement.

And what is its source? Latin, of course. Pessimus means “worst” and is related to peior “worse”, which gives us another word, pejorate “make worse” – the opposite of ameliorate.

But let us always remember that things can always be better, and that’s a good thing. To quote as I often do from Laurie Anderson’s “Language Is a Virus,” “Paradise is exactly like where you are right now, only much much better.” To start with, even when things are pessimal, your email may go pss… and deliver you a delicious word.

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