wordcess

“At the end of the day, this is, you know – and it’s important to have, it’s important to understand these things – but in the final analysis, we’re going to make sure that the people who work hard for their families, that when it comes down to it, there’s an opportunity, and I want, and I think you all understand and respect, but there are priorities, and we need to make sure we take action on what matters.”

That is what is often called a “word salad.” But I’m not so sure the term is apt. Salad is good for you, at least some of the time. And salad is, usually, fresh. And crisp. I have enjoyed many salads.

No, that filler mélange (anglorum ispum?) is better described with a word pulled out of the musty basement of our language: it is a wordcess.

We know –cess as the second part of several words: success, recess, excess… That cess comes, via a long process, from Latin cedo, a verb used for a wide variety of movements and changes (its simplest translation is ‘I go’); it is also the root of concede, recede, and quite a few other words. So is wordcess words… just going?

No. This cess is not that cess, so bad cess to it. Wordcess does not mean a process of words, a recess in words, an excess of words, or anything like that. It is, as I said, from the musty basement of our language… by which I mean Anglo-Saxon. We have a word cess, now generally disused on its own, that developed somewhere in the mingled humus of our ancient roots, and it means ‘bog’.

Which may remind you that if you go to “the bog,” what you leave there may end up in a cesspool (or, in more rustic circumstances, a cesspit). Now, it’s not entirely certain that cesspool traces back directly to cess ‘bog’; it is even possible that cesspit does and cesspool not so much. But I can’t get bogged down here in the various etymological speculations on cesspool – you can get a short rundown on Wiktionary.

So you may think, then, of a wordcess as a sort of septic tank for words. But that could lead to the idea that it would be vulgar, full of swearwords and such like. That is not what a wordcess is. After all, like or dislike manure, it is good fertilizer, and like or dislike coarse language, it has a certain vitality and vigour to it and provokes lively reactions. Compare that with a bog, which is a place where plant matter goes to just plain old rot. Certainly you can cut peat and dry it and burn it, but otherwise a cess is a place of decay; there is no vitality in it. It is just decaying castoffs, and if you make a misstep you may sink in it and meet your end.

And so that is why a wordcess is a conglomeration of words that have nothing fresh or alive; they just decay and bog down and lie there as a trap. A collection of clichés, old turns of phrase, vague half-ideas, deflections, the once-glorious foliage of past years now a damp sludge.

Indeed, the only thing fresh about wordcess is the word itself. Word is old and cess is old, and wordcesses are old, but the word wordcess is a new old word: it arrives on the planet first here, now, today. And long overdue.

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