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soray

She pulled her lips at last back from mine, her hand resting on my chest, and looked at me from a few inches away. “I’m going to miss you… when I go.”

Her parents’ family room was in gathered darkness behind her, old couches and upholstered chairs, coffee table, probably a television somewhere in it all. After a very long evening of chatting and playing games and other things I recall mostly by conjecture and probability, we’d run out of excuses for me not to leave, so at last I’d put my arm on her shoulder and leaned in to make the bold and long-expected move. Our first kiss was five or ten seconds that filled more hours in my mind than the whole evening before. It was then or never: she was leaving to take an opportunity to study overseas. A lucky break. Literally: she had given up ballet because of a stress fracture. I didn’t know then how successful she would be in her new career – the answer, as the intervening thirty years have played out, is “very” – but I wished the best for her as she left me behind.

I don’t remember exactly what I said. I’m sure it was commonplace words said with portentous feeling. I know didn’t say “Soray.” But I could have.

Soray. A word you can say in valediction when a parting makes you ache with sadness at the loss of the person and with joy at what they are going to. And a noun to name for the occasion. A soray may be when you release a captive animal into freedom, hopeful that it won’t meet one of the abrupt disasters that await the unprepared. So a soray happens myriad times every September as parents see their almost-adult children off to university for their first year, even though soray is not now a word most of them would say. A believer in heaven could say it to a dying beloved, but no one does.

What is this word, anyway? Conjecturally it looks like a blend of sorry and hooray but it is not; that’s just a backformation, and a clumsy one at that. It rhymes with foray but that just makes it suitable for poetry. It is tempting to trace soray to the same source as sorry and sorrow – Old English sarig and sorgian – but this is a sweet sorrow of parting, sweet not in hope for rejoining but just in rejoicing for hope.

But Scots Gaelic gives a more tempting clue: soraidh, meaning ‘farewell’ – the parting wish, but seen in soray with the sure belief that the person will fare well. “Ae fond kiss and then we sever,” Burns wrote, but his “warring sighs and groans” are replaced in a soray by tears of your own loss but also of your joy at the other’s gain: the most noble tears ever shed.

The truth of soray’s origin is known, though, and it’s none of the above, though they all have come to bear on it in its history. Take out a bag of Scrabble tiles; pull out five face down, and turn them over one by one: S, O, R, A, Y. That’s what I did an hour or so ago, and then I hit my reference shelf to see what history I could give it, what manufactured or borrowed memories I could endow this newborn lexeme with.

Sorry. Until just now, it was never a word. But now it is, and a word for something that deserves one. And now it is out of my hands, out into the world, sent hopefully. Soray!

This is but the first of a series of new old words: lexical replicants with invented or borrowed histories. I’ll still also be tasting words that have existed before. Personal anecdotes and other stories illustrating the new old words may or may not be true, and I won’t tell you whether they are.