Daily Archives: March 26, 2013


In word country, where the realms of different languages meet, there is mist. The view is unclear; on peut perdre le sens. There is a mystique. The greenery hisses as you brush past it, all mixed: insalata mista. You hear it: “mist, mist.” But be careful of what you may have missed.

You know this word mist, of course, this good old word of Germanic origins, recognizably cognate even with Sanskrit (mih). You know where you hear it, coming through the morning mist, a fine mist, a light mist; you see the mist-covered mountains of home. You see mist on bottles of beverages, shampoos, cleaners. You cannot mistake it, the fountain m, the spray-top i, the sinuous s, the capped-off t. You say it: the mouth starts warm, /m/, and then the nozzle opens and tightens to a spray, /ɪs/, and then stops, /t/. Short. Simple. Clear.

But mists are not clear. They are things you get lost in, and not just the mists of time but the mysteries of language. Even with so few letters, you can get mixed up, ISTM. Wandering in English, you may smell must and find your shoes messed. This cannot be dismissed. Perhaps you have wandered over into German, where Mist means ‘dung’ or ‘rubbish’. Your ears and eyes and mouth may have taken you astray, and now you find you are in something you do not want to be in at all.