Rush, rush, rush. So much of modern life is rushes. And what do you find in the rushes? What does all this rushing do to us? Junk us, I’d say.
Seriously. At every juncture you find yourself getting reedier and not readier. You’re hardy, yes, but you’re usually swamped.
Well, that’s what rushes are about, I guess. Rushes are, after all, hardy grasslike plants that grow in a variety of conditions but most often in swampy ones. Yes, yes, you can rush to see rushes of Geoffrey Rush’s latest film if you’re in the movie business, or just buy rush seats if you’re the public, but that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about what you find when you were hoping for pussywillows and cattails. I’m talking about juncous plants.
Juncous? That’s the adjective for rushes: if something resembles or pertains to a rush, as in the plant (and no, don’t tell me Plant is Zeppelin while Lee is Rush), it is juncous.
Why? Because Latin for ‘rush’ is juncus. And while rush meaning ‘hurry’ has no etymological connection to rush meaning ‘reedy grassy plant’, juncous may – just possibly – be related to junk. I won’t say it confidently. Here’s the thing: the word junk meaning ‘trash’ (not the one meaning a kind of boat; that has a completely separate origin) began as meaning more specifically ‘nautical refuse’ and originally ‘old or discarded bits of rope’. Usually that earliest sense was in the phrase old junk. Bits of rope, old and worn, probably made of cheap material. What could cheap rope be made from? Rushes, among other things.
But there’s no attestation for that. There’s a gap in the etymological chain. Although the link is plausible, it’s not demonstrated. As the saying goes, etymology by sound is not sound etymology. So while juncous and junk could be related, at the moment it’s just junk linguistics. We don’t want to rush to a conclusion.
But at least we have one thing: in the incessant rushes of daily life, every so often we discover something unexpected that turns out to be big. After all, do you remember who was found in the rushes? The infant Moses, floating in a little boat, saved from the slaughter of the newborns, destined to be raised under the pharaoh’s roof and then to lead Israel to freedom. He started with rushes but then took his time. Juncous, yes, but not junky.