vice

A few of us were at Domus Logogustationis, malingering after the annual general meeting. Edgar Frick held high the remains of a bottle of quite passable Chianti and gestured towards Maury. “Let’s drink a toast to our new vice president!”

Glasses were empty all around. I thrust mine forth; Maury edged his ahead of mine; Marilyn Frack, already tipsy, leaned forward precariously with hers, nearly spilling out of her chair and perhaps her leather blouse.

“I’m the president of vice,” declared Edgar, “so I make the call and decide in favour of Maury.” He filled Maury’s glass with the last of the bottle. “Oh! Well, there’s another one here.” He reached down and produced a new bottle. “Different producer, but…” He started looking around for something.

Fungi vice,” I said. (That’s “fun-jye vie-see.” It refers to a suitable equivalent substitute.)

“Never mind the fungi,” said Maury, “this is the vice I see, and it is a nice vice.”

“It’s an apposite one, too,” I said, “given that vice as in ‘clamp’ comes from Latin vitis, referring here to a screw but actually meaning a grape vine – since their vines grew in spirals.”

“That’s suitable,” purred Marilyn, “since drinking can lead to screwing, and vice-a versa.”

Edgar looked up. “That’s vice-versa, my delicious, not visa-versa.”

“I know that! And you know I know that. I was just making a pun. Since I am not averse to a vice.”

“Well, speaking of screws, have you got one, comma, cork?”

“Oh, give me that bottle,” said Marilyn. “I have a way of extracting the cork without one.”

“Perhaps not here, darling…”

“No, not that!” Marilyn giggled. “I just need a shoe…”

“There’s another bottle over there,” Maury said, pointing offstage right, “with a screwcap. I wouldn’t want to damage the immovables.” (He knew what Marilyn was about to do: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAx2TXt1v_I. Don’t worry, it’s not naughty.)

Edgar trotted off after the other bottle. Marilyn contemplated the unopened one she held. “Well, of all the vices to be in the grip of, this is one of the better ones… Say, isn’t that the origin of our use of vice for something like this? It puts the screws to you?”

“In fact not,” Maury said. “It’s a different Latin root: vitium, ‘fault, defect’. So that rather vitiates that link, appealing as it may be.”

“Well, how vicious,” Marilyn said, pouting slightly.

“And then,” I said, “rather not fungi vice, there’s the third vice, as in president, versa, and fungi. It’s from vicis, ‘place, stead, turn’.”

“Turn!” Marilyn said. “You see, we’re back to spinning around… or is that the room…”

“Perhaps too many vice verses have given you vertigo,” Maury said.

“Those are all from the same root,” I pointed out: “versa, verse, vertigo, all from vertere, verb, ‘turn’.”

Marilyn began to sing, a rare thing for her. “Turn, turn, turn… You spin me right round, baby, right round…” She looked around. “I want either Edgar or a shoe. Or a screw. Comma, cork.”

Edgar obligingly reappeared. “Put a cork in it, darling.”

“Screw off,” Marilyn said.

Edgar obliged: with the customary cracking sound, he broke the seal on the screwcap and unscrewed it. “Veni, vidi, vici… vice!”

I thrust my glass forth again. “And now, please…” I sang out a line from Verdi’s “Anvil chorus” from Il Trovatore: “Versami un tratto!” (“Pour me a drink!”)

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