Monthly Archives: January 2016


How can you tell a photo from a telephoto lens?

You… can’t, actually. You can spot some photos that are almost certainly not from a telephoto lens, and you can spot some that very likely are from a telephoto lens. But the thing that makes a telephoto lens a telephoto lens is not discernible in a photograph.

For those of my readers who are not notably enthusiastic about or well versed in photography, let me say first that any lens that is a telephoto lens is a lens with a relatively long focal length – but (and this will surprise some camera buffs too) the converse is not true.

What is focal length? Imagine looking through a cardboard tube from a toilet paper roll or a paper towel roll or a wrapping paper roll. The longer the tube is, the narrower the angle of view at the other end. Camera lenses are like that, except that whatever you see at the other end fills the whole picture, no matter how long the lens. Perspective narrows. So long lenses make far-away things look closer because they enlarge them. But they also compress perspective: buildings at different distances can look like photos stacked together.

What is long, by the way? If you’re using a 35 mm film camera (named after the width of the film, not any lens), or its digital equivalent, a “full-frame” sensor, a “normal” lens has a focal length of 40 to 50 millimetres (50 is the usual standard length). Anything shorter than that is at least a bit “wide” and anything longer than that is at least a little “long.” 85 mm is a “portrait” lens (good for taking head shots of people because their features are not distorted by perspective and because the background is blurred out a bit – oh, no, I am not going into depth of field today), and real “long” lenses start at 100 mm or so and go on quite far, increasing in price as they go (there are other factors that also increase the price and no, I’m not digressing into them today). Smaller sensors or film will have a correspondingly shorter focal length for the same angle of view, and longer ones (medium and large format) will have longer focal lengths.

I’m going to give an illustration of all this below.

Since you’re reading this, you’re probably a word buff, and that means you almost certainly recognize tele and photo. That’s tele from Greek meaning ‘far’, as seen in television, and photo from Greek meaning ‘light’ as in… oh, come on, you know as in what. If you’re a photography buff, you may well think of telephoto as another way of saying ‘long’ as in ‘long lens’ because long lenses let you see far-away things better, like a telescope. But it’s not. It’s really a way of designing a lens so that the light paths telescope in, so to speak. That is, the lens acts like it’s longer than it really is. It might be a lens with a 135 mm focal length that’s physically less than 130 mm from front to film (or sensor). Considering that focal length is nominally the distance to the back of the glass in the lens, not the front, you can see that this lens is somewhat shorter than a simple design would make it.

So if you’re in a camera store and someone’s trying to sell you a lens that’s comparatively long, and they keep calling it a telephoto lens, should you point out that not all long lenses are telephoto lenses? No, you should not. They probably know that, and anyway, nearly all modern long lenses are telephoto lenses, because why have a lens that’s physically larger than it has to be? Telephoto lens designs have been around since the late 1800s. So unless you’re buying a lens for a bellows-based camera (a large-format camera or certain medium-format cameras), the salesperson is not wrong. And what do you care about anyway? Taking pictures you like or making sure everyone knows you know the exact meaning of something?

Now. That was the words part. Here’s the photo part. I took a few photos out my bedroom window tonight with three different lenses. Here are the lenses.


The one on the left is a 20 mm lens. Since my camera has a “four thirds” format sensor, which is smaller than a full-frame sensor and so cuts down the angle of view in the picture, this lens has about the same angle of view as a 40 mm lens on a full-frame camera would. The middle lens is that 135 mm lens I was talking about above. When I put it on my camera, it’s like having a 270 mm lens on a full-frame camera. The one on the right is a 350 mm lens, and yes, it’s telephoto too. There’s only so much you can do with the materials available to make the lens shorter. It has an angle of view like a 700 mm lens on a full-frame camera.

How long is 700 mm? About 2 feet 4 inches. What angle of view is that? Well… Here are some pictures taken using that 350 mm lens.

Here are some pictures of the same subjects taken with the 135 mm lens.

And here is a picture of the whole scene taken with that 20 mm lens. It all fits in the one shot, with so much more.

Obviously not a telephoto design. But also, because this is a mirrorless camera, not a retrofocus either. A what? …Never mind.


On Tuesday night, I was at a reception hosted by the Literary Review of Canada (of which I have been the designer for more than 15 years), and I had the chance to chat with Andrew Coyne, a fairly well known political commentator. I particularly liked one thing he said: Radical and extremist are not the same thing. Bernie Sanders is a radical but he’s not an extremist. Donald Trump is an extremist but he’s not particularly radical.

We have ideas about what a radical is, who is radical, what is radical, and so forth. When I was young, radicals were “wild-eyed,” and you would have a mental image of some young communist or anarchist with hair like a basket of deep-fried exclamation marks, eyes like devilled quail eggs with olives, and the personal hygiene habits of an indolent hippopotamus, and he (or occasionally she) would be waving and shouting and maybe tossing a bomb or something. These days you’re more likely to see it with “Islamic” or “cleric,” or occasionally “feminist.” It tends to be used as a way of othering people, casting them into an irrational role. It implies that the person is about as peppery as a radish and hell-bent on eradicating civil society. Many people are strongly resistant to proposals that they make fundamental changes to their ways of living. And radicals are always exponents of fundamental change. So, in defence of their comfort, people cast radicals as ridiculous extremists.

Hmm. Fundamental change versus radical change – do you notice the difference in tone? If your CEO says “We’re going to have to make some fundamental changes,” that means the basic ways of doing things will have to change, but it will be done in an authoritative, considered way. If your CEO says “We’re going to have to make some radical changes,” it will probably give more of an idea of suddenly jerking the steering wheel and going off road. It also probably means you have a new, likely younger, CEO. Fundamental change doesn’t always take you out of your comfort zone. Radical change seems to require going out of your comfort zone. And yet… leaving aside the difference in tone and implication, how would you define the difference in denotation?

Meanwhile, there are other uses of radical. Free radical, for instance (at the beginning of Never Say Never Again, M tells 007 he needs to go for a health cure; Miss Moneypenny asks him what his next assignment is, and he says “I am to eliminate all free radicals”). Whatever those are, they must be very bad, like little wild-haired bomb-tossing anarchists in your blood, right? And then there’s radical mastectomy, which is the biggest, baddest kind of boob removal, for women whose breast cancer is no small thing. On the other hand, there’s also the shortened form rad, as in Totally rad, dude, which shifts the sense from the bad kind of ‘wild’ to the good kind. And there are other uses, such as in Chinese orthography, where the basic characters (of which there are some 400) that are combined to make other characters are called radicals.

And there’s this: √. That’s not a check-mark; it’s the thing you use to indicate a square root (or, with a superscript number in the notch, some other kind of root). It’s called the radical sign. When you first encounter that term, you may wonder if it’s because of its rakish tilt. But no. It’s time to get to the root of what radical really is.

Radical is an Anglicization of Latin radicalis, which is derived from the root radix. Radix is not just a root; it means ‘root’. It’s the source of our word radish. When we speak of eradicating something, the original image is pulling it up by the roots – removing the whole plant, in other words.

So everything that is radical has to do with roots (well, except when someone is using the term more loosely to mean “wild” because they don’t know its origin). Political radicals want change from – or to – the roots. Fundamental change. As Bernie Sanders shows, it does not have to be extremist; heads do not have to roll. And (though Sanders is no example for this) their hair can be quite tidy, right down to the roots.

Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms that are highly reactive and ready to form bigger molecules – and may cause damage in doing so. A radical mastectomy removes a breast by the roots, muscles and all. Chinese radical characters are the roots, the basic forms. And the radical sign signifies a root – square root, or, with the necessary exponent, some other kind of root.

You know what I mean by exponent, right? If I put x2, the superscript 2 is the exponent. It says to what power the number is raised. It just so happens that you can express the root of a number without using a radical sign. You just use a fractional exponent. The square root of x, which you can write as √x, can also be written as x½. So a radical is a fractional exponent.

Just incidentally, x0 is always equal to 1, regardless of x – if you’re looking out for number one, you’re not going to be a radical or an exponent of anything, really. Also, if the exponent is a negative number, it means the reciprocal of the positive – that is to say, x–3 is the same as 1/x3. And x–½ is the same as 1/√x. It’s easy to get confused between fractional exponents and negative ones, but it’s worth remembering: negative exponents always want to divide, but radicals are not always negative exponents. Some radicals are exponents of quite positive things – change for the better.


Today has been Rabbie Burns Day, the 257th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, the poet. I did not have haggis (my wife can’t abide it), but I’m having a wee (or not-so-wee) dram of Scotch as I write this. I’m celebrating, but more about that anon. I’d like to toast dear Rabbie with a toast that was probably written after he was under the turf: Here’s tae us! Wha’s like us? Gey few, and they’re a’ deid!

This is best translated into standard English as “Here’s to us! Who’s like us? Damn few, and they’re all dead!” But gey does not mean ‘damn’. It means ‘very’ or ‘rather’ or ‘pretty’ (in the intensifier sense). Gey few means ‘rather few’ or ‘a good few’.

This is Scots English, of which there is more than one variety. I don’t have any books on the Ayrshire dialect of which Burns was a native speaker (and anyway he was a native speaker of the 18th-century variety), but I happened to acquire an entertaining book on another dialect at some book sale or store or honestly I can’t even remember. It’s hiding on the top shelf of my dictionaries and phrase books.

It’s not very big; you can barely see it between the Czech and the Dutch. Here it is in my kitchen.

This is an entertaining, charming book, replete with cartoons. It is meant to be amusing, but it is at the same time accurate – it’s not taking the piss; it’s written by someone who grew up speaking the Doric dialect.

Doric, to me, always meant one of the orders of classical architecture. It was the one with the boring columns (Ionic had the curly capitals and Corinthian had the leaves). But this Doric is a dialect of Mid Northern (aka Northeastern) Scots. Here’s a Wikipedia article on it: Oh, sorry, that’s in Scots. Try this one; it’s in standard English: Anyway, if you’ve ever tried to understand someone from around Aberdeen, Doric is what you were up against. If Scotland had its own army and navy, Scots could be a separate language (I don’t mean Gaelic; I’m talking about the “dialect of English”), but as it is, we kid ourselves that we should be able to understand it. Well, Swedes and Danes understand each other, generally, sorta, and there’s about as much difference. The Doric dialect, as it happens, is named after the Greek area, apparently because the Scots were being compared to Spartans.

Here’s a page from that fun book:

At the top you see the end of a “Useful Phrases” section, including such as “Ye’d maak a better door nor a windae,” dryly translated as “Excuse me, please. I cannot see past you.” The translations assume you can figure out the literal translation (‘You’d make a better door than a window’, which is also a common phrase used by Canadians, usually addressed to school-aged youth who haven’t figured out where not to stand). But look a bit farther down the page and there’s this nice line:

Es taiblie’s gey shoogly. It means ‘This table is very wobbly.’ And so here is our word of the day, gey. Shoogly would be a good one too, but it can wait.

Whence comes gey? The Oxford English Dictionary is helpful on that, since the word is fairly widespread, not only in Scotland but also in Ireland and northern England. It comes from the same source as English gay – you could say it’s another version of the same word. English gay came into the language meaning ‘bright, brilliant, lively, showy’ and also from that ‘happy, light-hearted’. More than a century ago (just how long ago is unclear because it was surely used orally long before it showed up in the printed record) it came into use to refer to men preferentially attracted to other men, and that usage has become the supervenient one now, at least in part because so many people who aren’t homosexual avoid using it lest they be mistaken for such. The long history leading up to that usage is a whole other story that I’m not going to spend time on today just because gay isn’t the word of the day. Gey is. And gey went from a specific positive to a general intensifier (like very, originally ‘truthfully’; damn, short for damned and you damn well better know the literal meaning of that; and more modern colloquial usages such as wicked).

What was the source from which gay and gey came? French gai, which meant and still means ‘happy, cheerful’, and a variety of extended senses. The history before that is surprisingly complicated but apparently involves Old High German. Yes, even the Old High Germans could be happy. And the French of course know quite well how to be happy. The interjection o gai or just gai can be heard in some French folk songs such as “En montant la rivière” and even the Breton “Tri martolod.”

So, now. What cause have I to be happy and drink a toast today? Aside from good auld Rabbie, of course (and for more of him, spin back a few years to my vignette on skirl). My cause to be happy is just this: I have finished the first draft of a thesis. So let’s have some whisky already!


De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est. “Of the dead, nothing but good is to be said.” Well, that’s a fairly exact translation, but not so idiomatic – Latin liked passives and other constructions that used est (‘is’) far more than English does. Better to render it as “Don’t speak ill of the dead” or “Speak only well of the dead” or that sort of thing. There are a lot of dreadful translations into and out of Latin. I’ve sung and heard music written in English and then translated word for word into Latin, which is a ghastly and villainous thing to do, sort of like using a computer like a typewriter, hitting return at the end of each line and aligning using spaces and so on. I’ve seen books and poetry translated equally badly into Latin, somehow adding more words where Latin would use fewer, as though translation were an exercise in explication (imagine! a Latin translation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas with a title that, translated back from Latin, means ‘how an evil little being called the Grinch stole the birth of Christ’).

Where was I. Oh, yes. De mortuis et cetera. It’s often shortened to Nil nisi bonum, ‘nothing but good’. Have you seen the movie Lawrence of Arabia? I recommend it; well made, highly quotable. But don’t quote the pronunciation of Nil nisi bonum you hear near the beginning. Oh, it’s accurate – to British schoolboy Latin of nearly a century ago, which is what would have been used. But gah. A great exhibition of the effect of the Great Vowel Shift of English on pronunciation of Latin, but really: “Nill nice eye bone ’em.” A more accurate-to-the-original version (allowing for the usual Anglophone incompetence at loan phonetics) would be like “Kneel knee see bon oom.”

Why am I going on about this? Oh, yes. So anyway, at a funeral, someone delivers a eulogy. That’s from Greek εὐ eu ‘good’ (you see it in euthanasia, ‘good death’, and a number of other words too) plus λογία logia ‘speech’ (or ‘words’; you see it in all those –ology words and many others). You say nice things about the dead person. It’s a sad time, someone’s been lost, no one wants to be reminded about the unpleasant parts of the person’s character because that kind of poisons the grief. Anyway, there’s no risk in saying nice things; the person isn’t going to get a swollen head from them or use them against you later.

But if there’s good speech, there must be bad speech, right? Such as the speech we often make of others before they die? Various kinds of criticism and kvetching? The Greeks had a word for it, surely? Well, no, they didn’t, not as such, but that didn’t stop us from taking Greek parts and jamming them together, because the ancient Greeks are dead and they’re our parts now, never mind those modern Greeks, they’re two millennia removed from it too. We just took the opposite of eu, that negative dys (from δυσ), not dis as in dislocation (that’s Latin and means ‘away from’ or similar senses) but dys as in dyslexia, and stuck it onto the logy. Dyslogy. With one swell foop we have dislodged the eulogy. And, like eulogy, it’s said with the accent on the first syllable. But it’s a bit harder to say. And it’s harder to look at, too: tandem y’s (we are not used to seeing two of them with four letters in between) and quite a slog through “sludge” in the middle.

So where do you use dyslogy? Be honest: you probably use it all the time; it doesn’t take much to dislodge the cup of malcontent. Dyslogy will spill out about the weather, perhaps, unless you live somewhere where the weather is always nice. About sports, politics, people who cut in front of you and then move slowly, people who live where the weather is always nice and flaunt it on Facebook, anyone who uses the hashtag #soblessed, maybe even anyone who uses the word hashtag, lousy translations, people who complain about everything all the time, and, of course, those pretentious dicks who use words like dyslogy.


If you happen to wander into the be– section of the Oxford English Dictionary, you bump into all sort of verbs and adjectives: becalm, befuddle, beclap, bechance, becloud, bedaub, bebop, bechamel, oops, those last two aren’t made with the be– prefix, but the list goes on – in fact, the entry for be– (prefix) has 558 sub-entries. That’s 558 words other than the ones with their own separate entries starting with this prefix that signifies a becoming or imposition or “from side to side (within a space), to and fro, in all directions, in all ways, in or through all its parts, thoroughly.” Think of the poor lexicographer. The very thought has me trembling. I think I would end up bebunged like a barrel.

A barrel? No, no, not a barrel. A clavichord.

If behatted and bewigged mean bedecked with a hat and a wig, bebunged must mean having a bung, right? Or somehow affected by a bung?

Nope. There is no alcoholic delirium tremens in bebung. But there are tremors. Of the hand. Deliberate ones. And there is no bung, really. There is beb and there is ung.

Unlike the words around it, this word is a loan from German. And in German, –ung is a non-forming suffix similar to the gerundive –ing in English. The German verb beben means ‘tremble’; bebung – said /ˈbeɪbʊŋ/ (like “babe oong”) – means ‘trembling’. But not just any trembling.

I remember one time, when I was in university, one of my friends – can’t remember which, but given how my life was at the University of Calgary I should probably really put “friends” in scare quotes or just replace it with “people I associated with who variously tolerated and scorned me” – was playing something on the piano (probably with one hand) and, on sustained notes, shook the hand over the fingertip like a violinist does when playing tremolo. I didn’t say anything then, but I thought, “That doesn’t do a damn thing to the sound. Does it?”

The answer is no, it doesn’t. Once you’ve struck the piano key, the hammer has bounced off the string and the only way you can make the sound change with the key is to hit it hard enough to make the hammer bounce off the string again. Titillate the key all you want, you will only be bending your digit. But guess what: It’s different with a clavichord.

What is a clavichord? An instrument that sounds rather like a harpsichord but works a bit more like a piano. But it makes its sound by striking the string from below with a metal point that stays in contact with the string, and if you waver the finger on the key up and down – not sideways – it can vary the tension on the string to produce a tremolo effect. A tremor. A bebung. Here, watch:

The sound is about as unsteady as a somewhat be-bunged drinker. But of course be-bunged is not in the dictionary. You still understood what I meant, though, didn’t you?

So you can’t make bebung on a piano. Except that you can do something that is also called bebung: you can just tap the key a few more times to make repeated strikes of the string to extend the sound or produce a vaguely similar effect. Well, similar in the same way as cicada sounds like the sound a cicada makes. But it might be better for bebop.


Mmm, schmaltz. Delicious, yummy, dripping, greasy schmaltz. It’s like the smelted gold of the food world. Roast a chicken the right way and the schmaltz just drips down and bathes the vegetables. Make gravy with it, or save it for frying other things, or spread it on bread, or…

If you’re like me and first encountered the term in its figurative sense (I believe I learned it from MAD Magazine), the above might seem a bit odd. Who wants sentimentality in their gravy, or mawkishness spread on their bread? Elevator music for dinner, the Magical Strings for frying things in? But if you know only that meaning, the literal original will make it all make sense. Yes, schmaltz is chicken fat. Melted chicken fat. Primally pleasing, not a health food, not highbrow.

You can easily guess that this is a word from Yiddish. The schm is a good sign – we see it in other Yiddish loans such as schmuck and schmendrick as well as in the reduplicative derisive schm: “Chicken schmicken, it was a Cornish hen”; “Prefix schmefix, it’s a pseudomorpheme”; “Lean schmean, it’s covered in schmaltz.” All these Yiddish schm can also be spelled as shm, by the way, because they’re transliterations. Yiddish is properly written using the Hebrew alphabet. Schmaltz is שמאַלץ and can be transliterated shmalts.

So this word comes from Hebrew? Ha. Hebrew schmebrew. Like most of Yiddish, it’s Germanic. Yiddish is an offshoot of German with substantial Hebrew influence. The modern German equivalent is Schmalz, pronounced exactly the same way. It’s like if the German word for ‘fat’ were Fatt.

Which it’s not. It’s Fett. But there’s another word for fat, in modern German meaning ‘lard’ but historically broader in sense. That word is, yes, Schmalz. In Yiddish it came to mean chicken fat specifically, because that was the main fat that was available for cooking with. (It did maintain a broader sense of just ‘fat’ in schmaltz herring, an especially fatty kind of pickled herring.) Frying in butter is a no-no (not kosher to mix dairy with meat); lard (from pigs!) is no good either; and for assorted reasons, beef fat is not really a good option either. And there just wasn’t a whole lot of olive oil available in northern Europe in previous centuries, know what I mean?

Fortunately, melted chicken fat can be a pretty good thing. That’s why getting really lucky can be referred to as “falling in the schmaltz.” To dive into a vat of delicious liquid chicken fat… it’s like falling into molten gold. Only without the fatal burns that you get from molten metal.

But the connection is a good one. There is an English word related to schmaltz, you see. It’s a verb referring to melting… metals now, mainly: smelt.

Ha. Can you smelt a chicken? Well, guess what: I can. I smelt one yesterday, and it smelt damn good.


I promised to come back to this book. Remember? This bookshelf at my parents’ place?

This book.

I have it on my bookshelf too. Not the same edition. It’s back behind a post. See it?

Look closer.

A box set.

The set also contains The Hobbit, but the volumes of The Lord of the Rings are thick from being read, so I keep The Hobbit next to the box (I read it before I got this box set, so this copy is less read).

Did you know that books get thicker with reading? They absorb some of you each time you go through them. Every book you read, part of you is passed into it through your fingers and the pages are fattened with your spirit and imagination. Return to the book and you will find it there. And add some more. And as you pass through life, that soul you left in the book still feeds into you and sends images to you. You never truly say farewell to a book once you welcome it and it welcomes you.

I swear it’s true.

And I read this copy twice. At least twice, but twice for sure. So it’s thickened.

I like this edition because it has the appendix in the back with the alphabets, runic and Fëanorian.

I cannot tell you how much I fell in love with these alphabets in my childhood and youth. I loved alphabets. I once made a volume of fantasy languages; at that age, I couldn’t be bothered much with the syntax or lexis (let alone the morphology), but I came up with a complete sound system and alphabet for each of them. I’m sure I have that book somewhere. It’s a graph Nothing Book: a hardcover book with empty pages of graph paper. I filled quite a few of them.

I shall have to dig it out. If I have it here it’s under a hundred pounds of other boxes in the closet, probably. Not tonight.

Tolkien is famous for creating languages for his different races. He’s not the only person to create languages, of course; Klingon and Na’vi are two recent examples of thoroughly created “conlangs,” constructed languages (I find the term conlang a bit fanboyish – sci-fi fans have an absolute fetish for syllable acronyms – so don’t count on seeing me use it much). But he was one of the seminal ones to do so, and he did it in a truly thoughtful way, like the philologist he was: complete with history, sound and morphosyntax changes, and more.

Tolkien based his languages on human languages he liked. He like Welsh and he liked Finnish, and he created two elvish languages, one inspired by each. The language of the Grey-elves is Sindarin, inspired by Welsh. It’s the language that elves in The Lord of the Rings generally use in everyday use. But then there is the one based on Finnish: Quenya, the language of the High Elves, the ones who went to the west and for the most part stayed there. Some of them came back to Middle-earth and lived with the Grey-elves and came to speak Sindarin, but kept Quenya – a gradually changed dialect of it – as a formal tongue. The language of their home and heritage, brought out now for formal occasions. And for when they look to the west and their spirits are crying for leaving, remembering Valinor, the western land, and Valimar, its capital.

That might seem familiar to many people in Canada, children of immigrants, who speak English every day but, when they go to church on special occasions or to community gatherings, still have the language of their forebears, wherever they came from. The language that their parents, or their parents’ parents, said farewell to their native home in. The language that is at the same time the connection, the thread, that holds them to their homeland. The language they read the book of their heritage in, and that connects them to the part of themselves they left there.

The longest text Tolkien wrote in Quenya is this poem – a song, actually:

That’s in the single-volume edition my parents have. Here’s in my edition:

He helpfully gives a translation of it below the text.

It’s in the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring.

It’s sung by Galadriel as the company of the ring leave Lothlórien, the elvish tree-garden-river-home, a green dreamland. In fact, Lothlórien means ‘The Dreamflower’. If you saw the movie, Galadriel is the one played by Cate Blanchett, a rather perfect bit of casting. You can hear it sung in many versions on YouTube. Here’s one by Adele McAllister:

The name of the poem is also the word that comes around in the last stanza:


Four syllables: /na ma: ri ɛ/.

Namárië! Nai hiruvalyë Valimar.
Nai elyë hiruva. Namárië!

Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar.
Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!

You can glean quite a bit from even just this stanza. Nai means ‘maybe’; hiruva means ‘shalt find’; elyë means ‘thou’ and can be attached to the end of hiruva to make hiruvalyë ‘thou shalt find’ or can stand alone to be emphatic ‘even thou’; namárië means ‘farewell’.

Except there’s more you can’t see from that passage. Namárië comes from á na márië, which means ‘be well’. It is used not only for farewell but for greeting and welcome.

Be well. Go well. Fare well. But in English we say farewell only as a parting. We may say hail as a greeting, and that comes from a wish of good health. But we have lost the literal sense of both in our common use anyway. We may say Good day as a greeting and as a parting, but we only perfunctorily wish a good day if we think of it at all. I cannot say how sincere Tolkien’s elves were in their salutations; remember, this is a word in what had become for them a ceremonial language. It is as though we in English said Latin Salve in greeting and parting. Or, perhaps, Namaste.

But wellness is good, coming, staying, or going. And the road goes ever on. You travel through space and time, taking yourself with you and yet leaving yourself everywhere, and taking everywhere with yourself. There is some of you where you came from, some where you are, perhaps some already where you are going. And every meeting and well-wishing is also an acknowledgement of the unbridgeable distance between two persons, and the transience of our passage through that moment.

We are always everywhere we have been, and yet we are never completely anywhere: we carry our absences like wishing wells in our shirt pockets; we yearn for places we no longer are, places we’ve lost, places we have not yet been. We fatten the pages of the book of life, pages made from the trees of our lost and future homelands. We wish each other well. Namárië.