Daily Archives: March 5, 2014

transom

You may find this hard to believe, but when I was young I wanted to be a freelance writer.

I had a copy of the Writer’s Market put out annually by Writer’s Digest – well, OK, my dad had a copy and I used it. There were many magazines that said “No unsolicited manuscripts,” which of course meant there was no way for me to break into them, because they weren’t soliciting manuscripts from me. But then there were the rest, the ones that would take articles or short stories sent over the transom, as it were.

This was before email, so I would send my one good copy with a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to ransom it back. I always hoped my work would make some entrance, perhaps put them in a trance of delight or something, but the truth is that, like nearly everything that comes in over the transom, it tended to get deep-sixed. It seems that going over the transom is no smart way to go about it, generally.

You are familiar with the phrase over the transom, yes? Think of a publisher’s office as having a door with an openable window above the top of it – typically one where the bottom swings in or out. This window is a transom window or transom for short, though transom is first of all the word for the top cross-beam of the door frame – the difference between a transom and a lintel, if you want to maintain one, is that a lintel bears weight such as masonry above it, while a transom has a window or similar above it.

The etymology of transom is disputed, because it has gaps – it was a workman’s term, and workmen often mutate things to suit their tastes while leaving no written record. It comes to us from either Latin transtrum (meaning about the same thing) or Old French traversin ‘crosspiece’ (by way of traversayn and transyn).

The sense of ‘crossbeam’ has also led to transom naming a part of a ship. In that context, the crossbeam is at the back end of a ship. When you look at the back end of a ship, you will generally notice a flat end where the curve of the hull is truncated. This is what is called the transom of a ship now.

So picture, if you will, my adolescence’s deathless (because lifeless) prose going over the transom. Not onto the tiled office floor, but into the deep blue, pages fluttering down one after the other…

churrus

Words can be so intoxicating. Sometimes I’ll have spent the evening inhaling them and it will just make me want to wander through the dictionary looking for some sapid lexeme to snack on. Oh, look, here’s one: churrus. What could that be?

It sure has a stirring chirp like chirr or churr, but also a clear flavour of churro (and mmm, crisp at the start and then chewier). It’s entirely on the tip of the tongue, except for the vowels of course. It sits near churtle and chuserel (the latter being a word for ‘a debauched fellow’ from the 1700s and 1800s, the etymology of which, Oxford helpfully tells us, is “Apparently an error of some kind”). It has that nice symmetry of urru in the middle, and an almost incoherent urr at the heart of such a mixed-up word. (Really, in spite of being so tidy, it does seem a bit of a hash, n’est-ce pas?) Oh, and cirrus. Yes, it has that wispy little cloud somewhere above it.

So, hey, yeah, what does it mean, by the way? Oh, I see it comes from Hindi charas (wow, that has a different feel, doesn’t it, with the one r and the two a’s, so open and hot), and is also spelled churus (by which gurus? hee hee). So there. Oh, um, the meaning? Yeah. Oh, here’s a great quote, from After Some Tomorrow by Reynolds in 1967, thanks Oxford: “While under the effect of…charas fudge, did you ever experience one of your prophetic…enlightenments?” So it comes in fudge and, uh,

Oh, here: it’s the resin of the hemp plant. Gum, resin, whatever, coming from the flowers, seeds, whatever. Well, that’s enlightening.

Oh. Oh, I know what that is! Hashish! Yeah, it’s hash. Handmade hash. In India they smoke it in a pipe called a chillum. Nice. Now we’re smokin’. And chillin’.

Did someone say something about churros?