Today’s word is part of what I intend to be an occasional series of word pictures: short fictional word-image fantasias tangential to the word of the day.

gudgeon. noun. 1. A shiny silvery freshwater fish, easily caught, often used for bait. By extension, a gullible person. From Latin gobio by way of French goujon, and don’t ask me how gobio became goujon. 2. A socket-like (“female”) metal fitting made to connect to a pin-like (“male”) fitting (the pintle) to form a pivot, as for a gate, bell, spindle, axle, or what have you. From Old French gojon, perhaps connected to French gond ‘hinge’ or perhaps even related to that fish I just mentioned. verb. To be a gudgeon (extended sense) or to make a gudgeon of someone else.


She’s the only one looking at you, and even she isn’t looking at you. Her eyes, swung over her shoulder as though drawn by her backpack, have already skipped past you to someone more interesting behind. That man persecuting his smartphone with his fingertip as he walks a lemniscate path? The lady happily pursing a pair of fresh free promotional lipsticks? The young fellow with an indeterminate goatee walking mismatched dogs in three directions at once?

She’s looking at someone who may not be there. It’s not you. And it’s not the man standing at her other shoulder, who is not looking at her, not now.

She’s standing on a planter for a better view, but she’s not looking where everyone else is. The crowd in front of her are thirsting for a famous face, but that’s not who she’s here for. She’s waiting for someone who’s coming to see the glittering.

Lights and leaves swirl behind her like silvery scales swimming past, catching up the the hair of the lady a metre ahead of her standing below on the pavement. There’s a lady and another lady and a man and another man, all looking away, and the backs of their heads are a negative stare. They blur, hugger-mugger, smearing as space dust and glowing gas creeping a curve into a black hole. Only this hole is Klieg-light white, and somewhere in there is supposed to be a star. Look again and out of focus in the background you can see cameras.

Who’s there, who’s coming into the glow? I don’t know, and you don’t know, and she doesn’t know or care. One shiny object is as good as another to do the turn.

She’s eating something, and I don’t know what it is, but she has it in a bag in her left hand. She dips her right hand in, she inserts the hand in her mouth, she dips, inserts. Now she has paused as she looks into the future behind you, and her fingertips touch together on her tongue, put like a pintle in a gudgeon. This could look astonished if she weren’t so wary and questing. She could be about to pull her tongue out. She could be about to pull a word off her tongue and give it to the first messenger who would take it to the one she wants: draw it out like a fortune written on a strand of hair and give it to you or me or him or her to wear until that one person sees it and follows it and finally tongues it and is taken.

The man behind her stares forward but his head is shaped as though it’s being sucked backward from his face: his hair, his ears, the curve of his dome, all under inhalation by a heavenly harpy behind him in the black. But his eyes pull forwards, tugging at their sockets. His mouth is half agape, awaiting the taste of divinity those lights promise. He has nothing to say to this young woman here now beside him; any history that might have been between them is a burnt library. The dream is about to begin and he seeks his hypnotic. Behind him, ladies unseen discuss their dinners, and people in uniform try to look useful. They are nothing to him either.

But this young lady, her hair tied back in a long black stroke, her eyes two negative searchlights, who draws your attention and mine, has unhooked from the fish she followed here. She knows who is next, who will show without fail, even if in time grown old. She will not be played today; she will not be given a line. She has come prepared. Her rucksack swells with things she will need: three hard books, toothpaste, a comb, two toothbrushes, a long spool of dental floss, a spair pair of jeans, a tripod and camera, clean underpants, snacks, dry socks, and two T-shirts, in one of which is wrapped a flat sharp shiny slice of metal similar in shape to the slender fish that decorate the outer fabric of the backpack.

She doesn’t notice you seeing her eyelids make a faint half-flutter and her eyes begin to track. Her fingers descend slowly from her mouth to the bag she holds in her other hand, and for a faded second you see the shine of her tongue reflect the glare over there into which the star du jour is descending. The crowd inhales. She does not.

3 responses to “gudgeon

  1. “From Latin gobio by way of French goujon, and don’t ask me how gobio became goujon…”
    Not as inexplicable as you might think. Latin “gobio” takes the form “gobion-” for various cases (example: accusative singular “gobionem” ). That’s the origin of the “-on” ending.
    If you take the b/v sound ambiguity in the evolving Romance languages, you end up with something sounding like “govyon”. That becomes “govzhon” and then “goozhon” (I’m simplifying here).
    By the way, in the UK, goujon is the term used for any kind of breaded fish or meat (but usually chicken) strips.

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