This is an artful word, and one that clings; it coats the tongue and mind like attar or a tar. It has the same Latin root and the same denotation as viscous, but viscous has a little catch or cough in the middle, while viscid slides smoothly with no stop in the middle. It partakes of the same id idiom as limpid and turbid and, for that matter, vivid, morbid, frigid, liquid, arid, solid, fervid… Visually it presents not a symmetry but a pairing of opposing teams, vis versus cid – the i’s the common element, the vibrant v against the dull stop d, and the snake s against the hook c. But these opposing sides are glued together, the slick liquid /s/ sliding over the c and hiding it, covering it like a scent even as it has the sound of scissors or a scythe.

The overtones of this word are many, some close and others faint: vivid, civet, vicious, divisive, visit, lascivious, livid, fishes, civil, device, invasive, vision… So much of life. Life is indeed a viscid art; it is like honey, flowing but sticking to you, keeping memories, petals, dirt, all close to your skin, and making others so much harder to pull away from. It is vivid, it is civil or divisive, it has its devices and visions – oh, do not ask “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit. We come and go like insects drawn to the nectar. And sometimes we do not go, are not let go.

And the most viscid art of all our arts, I would say, is music. If life is a bowl of roses, music is the attar, the viscid resin; if it is something less pleasant, music likewise is the tarry distillate. We make and listen to music not to wash sticky life off us but to savour it, to feel how it pulls at us but to grasp it, too, and to try to control how we are swept away by it. It is mellifluous, but that means it flows like honey, and honey does not come away clean. The fly in the honey rubs its feet and enjoys the flavour as it is slowly engulfed. And then it looks up – we look up – and what is our song, what comes forth from the viscid art?

To me, it must be “Vissi d’arte,” from Puccini’s Tosca. “I lived for art,” Tosca sings, and cannot uderstand why, when she has only ever done good and wanted good, has always dwelled – so she thought – in the innocuous and well-wishing world of an artist, why the dark and lascivious machinations of life have engulfed her, why the pain and danger are real now. The music, a slow viscid liquid, drips in big slow ropes, runs down her and engulfs her, and though she strains she cannot escape. Watch (and listen to) Angela Gheorghiou sing it and then see if you can rise from your chair or if you, too, find you are trapped by the viscid reality, once delicious, now simply inevitable and decisive.

2 responses to “viscid

  1. Aha! Another -id word! I have long found delight in the historically related, but often semantically very different, pairs of words, one ending in -id and the other in -or (British -our). While fervid and fervor are obviously close, rancid and rancor are not. My torpor makes me torpid, my squalor seems squalid enough, and my liquor is always liquid; but my humor is more frigid than humid… Most interesting are the words which lack partners in this avid dance: avid itself, putrid, rabid… and now viscid. We suffer from the lack of the useful non-words avor, putror, rabor and now viscor. These gaps in the language are … lucid?

  2. Luscor?

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