Tag Archives: word tasting notes


“Oh, get out.”

I stood in front of a door. It was not in a wall. It was in an open outdoor plaza. It was free-standing, supported by simple braces on its frame. You could open it and walk through it, or you could walk around it with equal effect. 

But that was not the cause of my comment. I was looking at the sign in front of it. There, standing independently on a post, was a large arrow, with the words “THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS.”

I turned to the artist: Marcus Brattle, my former mentee, now 24 years old and an art school graduate, and apparently no less fond of taking the piss than he ever was.

“It’s been done,” I said.

“Not this way it hasn’t!” he replied with a grin. “I’ve taken Barnum’s misdirection and made it a door not out of a building but into a Cage… John Cage!”

I walked around it to view it edge-on. “Looks the same on the other side,” I said. In fact, it had an identical sign on that side too.

“But it’s like Cage’s four minutes thirty-three seconds,” Marcus said. “It’s the door frame itself that frames perception. Wait…” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. As he tapped and scrolled on it, he said, “I got my inspiration from this article in The Mark Twain Annual by, uh,” he read off the screen, “Christine Brenner Dixon. Here!” He handed me the phone and I read the beginning of the abstract:

When P.T. Barnum needed to move dawdling spectators out of his museum, he posted signs over the exits that read, “This Way to the Egress.” Standing suddenly on the street, Barnum’s gullible patrons were left with two choices: pay for reentry or choose to see the world as the grand spectacle, the ultimate humbug.

“I see,” I said. “From huckster to Huxley.”

The Doors of Perception!” Marcus said. (He always was an especially sharp instrument – that’s why he was able to be so exquisitely annoying at will.) He started singing a line from The Doors: “Break on through to the other side! Break on through to the other side!” He paused. “But we digress.”

“Well, then,” said I, walking back around to his side of the door, “let us regress.”

“When I was a child,” Marcus said, “I thought an egress was something like an egret or a tigress. Or maybe a lepress. Like Kilimanjaro.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I would have thought you’d have been an early fan of P.T. Barnum.”

“I’m not the one who went to the school that was halfway founded by him,” Marcus said with a smirk. He knew I went to Tufts University and he knew that Barnum was a major early benefactor and even has a building named after him there – and its mascot (and namesake of its sports teams) is Jumbo, Barnum’s famous elephant.

“Well,” I said, “compared with him, or with a tigress, this barely seems to transgress.”

Marcus raised a finger. “I have another work in progress. It should be ready in time for the congress. It will be a door within a door within a door within a door… a sort of…” I laughed and joined him as he said “infinite egression!”

“Well,” I said, “that really is as funny as all get out.”

“Oh, it’s not just clever, though,” Marcus said. “It’s a cleaver. It divides and joins at the same time.”

“E pluribus unum?” I said, trusting Marcus would know that the e in egress is the same as the one in that phrase on American coins, and that the motto means “Out of many, one.”

“One ingredient, many egredients,” Marcus said. “Or vice versa.” Bonus points for that: an egredient is something that goes out, just as an ingredient is something that goes in (as in into a recipe).

“Well, I hope you can see it through,” I said, “and I hope the viewers can see through it. Or not.”

“And now,” Marcus said, “let me see you through.” He stepped up, opened the door, and gestured for me to proceed.

I remembered Marcus’s many practical jokes of his younger years. “I think I’ll pass,” I said.

“I think you’ll pass through,” Marcus said. “Even if I have to lift the door and pass it around you.” He started to grab the frame as if to move it.

“Oh, no, don’t make the effort,” I said. I stepped forward and boldly went through the doorway. “I don’t want to be needlessly passive-egressive.”


What’s a sillykin? Is it an inane family member? No… well, it might be, but that’s not what the kin part is. A sillykin is any sort of fool or simpleton. It can be a term of endearment or mild reproach, when uttered towards a family member or friend (or perhaps paramour), but it can also be about as flatting as nitwit.

The -kin, in this case, is a diminutive suffix. It’s related to German -chen, as in Liebchen and Mädchen and Gretchen. It shows up in English words such as munchkin and bumpkin and gherkin. And you know silly, of course: it comes from the same Germanic root as modern German selig, ‘blessed’; the original sense in English was also ‘blessed’, but it shifted over time through ‘innocent’ and ‘naïve’ to ‘inane’. And you could say that in a way it has come full circle (or perhaps never fully went away from its origins), since a sillykin is the sort of person of whom you might say “Well, bless his little heart.”

The history of its construction also means that sillykin isn’t said like “silly kin.” The suffix is typically destressed to the point of neutralization (which, come to think of it, is what some of us are trying to achieve when we drink ourselves into sillykins), and the second vowel is also reduced, so that it’s more like “sillikin” or “sillakin” or “sillikan.”

We tend to have old-fashioned ideas about what a fool or simpleton might be: some buffoon in farcical clothing making obvious mistakes in the management of horses, for example. But in the modern era, a sillykin could be some guy sitting at his computer, thinking himself very smart but making something with very obvious security flaws – such as an “anonymous free speech” platform that’s easily hacked so the full identifying details of everyone on it can be downloaded – or perhaps thinking that he’s invented the convenience store of the future when he’s just re-created the automat, or thinking that the solution to traffic problems is a system that, among other things, moves only one car at a time and requires an elevator to get the car into and out of it. And that is why they call all those guys the Sillykin Valley.

What? Silicon Valley? Are you sure? They sound the same, you know…


Hey, why say “governor election” or “election for governor” when you can say “gubernatorial election,” am I right?

Of course, most of us don’t say “gubernatorial election” or “gubernatorial” anything else, but most of us aren’t in the news business or the writing-about-politics business, where the feedback seems to lead to genre-specific words that are meant to sound somehow more knowledgeable (cf. temblor and pontiff). This is a word that has a fancy machine sound to it, and its six syllables – two dactyls, like two long middle fingers aimed at each other – are impressive too. And, just incidentally, America’s favourite ex-robot (OK, he just played one in the movies) was sometimes styled the Gubernator (well, and sometimes the Governator).

On the other hand, gubernatorial also has that somewhat less-than-dignified sound of goober (to say nothing of booger). At least governor can be shortened to gov; imagine if it had to be gub – what a sound of a gobstopper, or perhaps a mouth submerged and drowning (gub, gub, gub). But if governor had retained its Latin form, that’s what it would have been, because the Latin original is gubernator, from which we get this strictly classical adjective.

And how did gubernator become governor? In the incessant production-response-and-revision cycle of speech, as it passed through Old French, the -nator was worn down to -neur, which became Middle English -nour and our modern -nor; and the [b] sound just softened over time to [v], a sound shift that won’t surprise anyone who speaks Spanish, in which the two sounds are treated as two versions of the same sound (which is why, for instance, the adjective from Havana is habanero). The same shift happened in the shimmy from Latin to French.

Oh, but don’t worry about our abilities to govern our tongues. It has ever been thus: consonants often go over time from stop to fricative, as in from [b] to [v], and even more often from voiceless to voiced, as in [k] to [g].* Which is another thing that has happened to this word. 

Because gubernator didn’t spring fully formed from the brow of Minerva or whoever. It came from Greek κυβερνήτης, kubernḗtēs, ‘steersman, pilot, guide’. But the interesting thing is that it came over in an organic, speech-based way; it didn’t get borrowed into Latin in the way many Greek words did: the κ didn’t become Latin c, and the υ wasn’t rendered in Latin as y, as was so typically the case. 

What that meant, though, was that when the Greek root was borrowed directly into English in 1948 to refer to feedback systems of communication and control, it could be borrowed using the usual Latin-styled transliteration and wouldn’t look like its Latinate descendant. In fact, since cybernetics has also had its pronunciation governed by English practices, you can’t even notice that it’s from the same root as gubernatorial. There’s no governetics and no cybernatorial.

Well, not yet, anyway. But once Skynet takes over our politics…

* They can also go in the other direction about as easily.


Would you ever squid your family?

How about your family photos?

OK, not squid, not really. Cuttlefish.

Cuttlefish isn’t quite snugglebunny, is it? But there’s something classy about it, you know… [touches earpiece] Wait, I’m just being told that no, there’s not.

But oh, yes, there is. You know that classic golden-brown tone of some old photographs? What’s called sepia?

Well. I was just making supper tonight, and, as one may from time to time, I was using pasta with squid ink colouring. And on the front of the package, I noticed that, along with a photo of a tentacled sea creature on a bed of parsley, it said “tagliatelle con nero do seppia.”

Huh. Seppia

I turned over the package. It gave the ingredients in several languages. “Durum wheat semolina with squid ink,” it said. And in German, “Hartweizengriess mit Sepia-Tinte.”


So I looked it up. And here’s the deal. Cephalopods – octopus, squid, cuttlefish – produce ink, as you probably know. That ink has been historically used not just for the obvious purpose of colouring pasta but also, strangely enough, for drawing and writing. Squid ink, as seen in pasta, is a blueish black, often with green tinges; cuttlefish ink, the more popular kind for art, tends towards a rich brownish black. In both cases, the original cephalopod uses the ink as a means of escaping. And in pasta as in photography, the original cephalopod has escaped.

In pasta, it has escaped because squid ink is not cuttlefish ink and yet they say it is. Sepia (or, in Italian, seppia) is cuttlefish; it comes from Latin, which got it from Greek, basically unaltered, meaning the same critter. But my pasta is evidently coloured with squid ink; you can see the bluish-green tint, rather than the brownish tint of cuttlefish ink. Yet the Italians and Germans call it sepia ink nonetheless. And if they are right, then English – which, as on my pasta package, calls it squid ink – is wrong. Either way, someone has a disconnect between ink producer and ink name.

In photography, the cephalopod has escaped because although the photographs have the same kind of brownish-black tint as you see in drawings made with actual sepia ink, they are not actually made with ink from cuttlefish. Rather, it’s called sepia just because it looks about the same as cuttlefish ink. In actuality, the silver in the print has been converted to silver sulfide, which, aside from having a warmer look, is more stable and lasts longer.

And, of course, in photos such as the ones I have here, the tint isn’t ink at all; it’s just a tinge in the image presented by your computer screen. The squid has quit town; the cuttlefish has scuttled away.

So there you have it. And there you have my lovely pasta dinner, which I cooked for my lovely wife.


What a delight to live in a lovely lacustrine location, to scud across a glinting harbour and land on an island as though leaping from lily pad to lily pad, to look at leaves in lagoons and reflections in ponds…

Certainly, instead of lacustrine (or lacustrian or lacustral, both less-common synonyms, and all three said with the stress on the cus), we could just say lake attributively. But while lake comes from the same lacus as lacustrine, it lacks a little something. A couple of syllables, yes, but also the sense of belonging, of inhabitation. 

A lake house is a house at a lake, but a lacustrine house, should you wish to call one that, is one that is somehow part of the lake, involved in its ecosystem. A lacustrine plant is a member of the polis of the lake – or, perhaps, of the lagoon. (A lagoon is a lake-like bit of the sea – or, as we use it in Toronto by the islands, a sub-lake of a lake – between the mainland and the vast open water, set apart by some earthy barrier, literally a lacuna, since lagoon is lacuna in English country clothing, by way of Italy and France. And lacuna is also from lacus, so a lily in a lagoon is literally lacustrine.)

There are lacustrine plants, lacustrine animals, lacustrine layers of sediment. All are not just on or in or under the lake, like cars on a road or trains in a tunnel; they are members of the family that is the lake. A large city on a lake, on the other hand – and that’s “on” as in “on the edge of” rather than “floating on” – often tries to keep itself separate from the lake, to keep the lake as an ornament like a lawn, to be looked at and to increase property values but not to be a member of. But if we’re honest, if we reflect on the subject, we can’t live without it; we cycle our water from it and back into it, our weather is affected by it, and we – at least some of us – are bodily into it and out of it often enough. Life is at least a little different when you are of a lake, when you are not just a lake city but a lacustrine one.


We went to the beach yesterday, Aina and I, and it was windy. As the swell of the water came to the shallows, waves peaked and curled and crashed, one after another, making the constant timeless noise of whitening water: surf, surf, surf, surf.

And nearby, the wind blew through the trees, and they also soughed, and as it swept the sands they sighed, but those could scarce be heard above the thrash and splash and roar of the water. Even the chatter of the few people on the beach barely crested the white noise of the wave wash.

And this was only on the shore of a great lake. Much larger waves can come in when you are on the ocean’s edge, the last lap of the vast and deep sea, spraying salt and plankton. The ocean waves are large enough that you can ride them on boards, if you’re able. The ones on Lake Ontario occasionally get to a size that allows that, but it’s never quite the same – and there’s no salt. But, like the waves of the lake, the ocean waves make the sound of liquid chaos as they roll at the shore: surf, surf, surf, surf.

Am I meaning to say that the word surf comes from the sound of surf? I do not know that for sure. But it may. It’s thought to be related, one way or another, to suff, a long-derelict which meant the same thing, and perhaps to sough. The shift from suff to surf, if it occurred, happened (with overlap) in the 1600s. And you may think that suff and surf sound almost the same in the English of England, but the habit of dropping “r” after vowels was not common at the time; it swept through the London area a full century later. 

So when Englishman Daniel Defoe, in 1719, wrote of “the Surf of the Sea” in Robinson Crusoe, he was saying “surf” the same way as American Herman Melville, in 1851, writing of “a sullen white surf”: with the curl of the “r,” the tongue rearing and rolling in the mouth like a wave making for shore. Thus, the word makes a gesture iconic of what it names: first the breaking “s”; then the sustained rolling “r”; finally the flat forward wash “f.” It may not be exactly how it came about, but it fits.

After an hour or so of watching the waves from the beach, Aina finally went in and played in the surf, letting it splash and thrash her. Few others had the nerve. No one was out on boards. And I preferred to stay dry and watch. We each have our forms of entertainment. But few things are as captivating and meditative as waves rolling in.


At long last, we are able to meet with friends in person again – preferably at the patio of some restaurant, pub, bar, club, beer hall, coffee shop, or juke joint. I arranged to meet Maury at the back-lot beer garden of one of my local favourites, C’est What. 

Maury had said that Narcissa would be joining us, but as we received our first pints of local microbrews, she had yet to arrive. “Perhaps she went to the Front Street patio,” I said.

“Quite possible,” Maury said. “I’ll text and see.” He typed in his phone to let her know she should come down Farquhars Lane to The Esplanade. It vibed in reply almost immediately. He looked at it and arched an eyebrow so high I thought he might sprain his face.

“Is she defiant?” I said.

“I think perhaps she accidentally went to the French place next door,” he said. He held up his phone to show me a message. It read, “Just as well. Too sheeshy here. Oh la la!”

“Too… sheeshy,” I said. “Do you think she’s pulling your leg?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” he said. “I’m starting to walk with a limp.”

“I admit,” I said, “the first time I saw chi-chi, spelled with a hyphen, I thought it was pronounced ‘chai-chai’. But I was young. And I didn’t hear it before reading it, but if I had, I might have thought it was spelled that way too.” I gestured at the phone.

“I suppose a person who learned Italian first might think it’s said ‘ki-ki’,” Maury observed. “And a Spanish speaker… well, a Spanish speaker would have a different meaning for chichi.” (If you don’t know what the Spanish term chichi means, I leave it to you to look it up, but if you don’t like vulgar anatomical references, you would do better not to.)

“I think,” I said, “the French origin of the term may have had that pronunciation too, from a root tchitch- referring to smallness.” I wasn’t going to pull out my phone on the spot to look it up – I’m not Daryl – but I got that from the Trésor de la langue française. Other sources, such as Oxford and Wiktionary, go with a likely derivation from chiche, in turn from Latin ciccum, referring to a trifle, bagatelle, or worthless little thing. (Neither is related to chic.) Both French and English have used the word in senses relating to frills, frippery, and showiness. But before I could continue the conversation, a loud pair of glasses and a glittery pair of lips entered the beer garden, followed by the rest of Narcissa.

“You found us,” Maury said. Obvious things often make good conversation starters.

Narcissa smooched Maury on each cheek and then said, “I’m glad this is the place, even though it’s not so scenic.”

“I take it chichi is not a positively toned word for you?” I said.

Chichi as in the French word – what that other place probably wanted to be – is good with me,” she said, settling into a chair. “But I looked around and said, ‘Sheesh.’ Hence the wordplay.”

“Matching it, perhaps ironically, to the French usage,” Maury said. In French, chichi has a tone of excess, artifice, or vulgarity that is not always retained in the English.

Narcissa raised a finger and then pointed to Maury, indicating that he was spot on. “Just like another French thing that we in English use for approbation but the French use to express surprise, dismay, or sympathy. It was what I said when I thought that place was your favourite.”

Maury and I looked at each other and nodded and smiled with appreciation. Once again, Narcissa knew exactly what she was writing. Recalling the last time – long ago – I had dined at the French place, I shook my head slowly: “Oh là là!”


In the Bay of Fundy, they have a sand sculpture competition. You may have heard of the tide in the Bay of Fundy: the water level changes by up to 15 metres (50 feet). It’s quite impressive – boats go from floating at a dock to resting on their keels well below, or vice versa. If you start building a sand sculpture there when the tide is out, you have no more than six hours before the tide will come in. You don’t want to be there at the time, and your sculpture is likely to face a sea-change once the tide floods it. 

Time and tide wait for no one, as the saying goes. In fact, it has been said many ways by many people: Robert Burns wrote “Nae man can tether time or tide” in 1791; William Somerville wrote “Time and tide for no man stay” in 1779; Andrew Barton wrote “time and tide waits for no one” in 1767; Robert Greene wrote “Time nor tide tarrieth no man” in 1592; and on and on, changing with the times. Time and tide is an idiomatic collocation in English, and one that, when it first arose (by the 1200s), was a deliberately redundant reduplication – almost like, say, vermin and varmints or creatures and critters – because tide was (as it rarely is now) a synonym for time.

And not just a synonym. It’s a sibling – a twin, even, though separated long ago. Back in Proto-Indo-European, there was a root that has been reconstructed as *deh₂y- having to do with sharing or dividing. It divided (we believe) into a few derived forms, including *déh₂itis, a noun meaning ‘period of time’, which descended to Proto-Germanic tīdiz, and *déh₂i-mō, which descended to Proto-Germanic tīmô (incidentally, cognate with Greek δαίμων, daemon). 

You can guess how tīmô developed: it became our time and several similar words in Scandinavian languages (such as Icelandic tími). It is not, by the way, related to Latin tempus ‘time’, which came from a root meaning ‘stretch’ or one meaning ‘cut’ (we’re not sure which). 

As for tīdiz, it became tide and a whole bunch of words meaning ‘time’ in other Germanic languages: Dutch tijd, for instance, Icelandic tíð, German zeit – you can see the sea-changes: the final consonant could become devoiced (as in German or Dutch – the d in tijd is said like “t”) or fricated (as in Icelandic, where ð represents the same sound as we make at the start of this); the first consonant could be affricated (as in German, where z is said like “ts”).

OK, but how did it go from ‘time’ to, well, ‘tide’ in sense? First it was used to refer to a particular time of day or year – a recurring time, as we still sometimes see or hear in Christmastide or Eastertide, or eventide or noontide. Some other Germanic languages started using a sibling form to refer to what English called the ebb and flood of the sea, and this usage of tide caught on in English in the 1300s. And most of the other uses fell off over time – or, I should say, time prevailed over them.

But there are still a few uses that relate more to time generally, or to opportune or unavoidable moments, or to occurrences. And there are words derived from tide. There’s betide, meaning ‘happen to’, as in woe betide. There’s tidings, which means ‘news’, as in things that have happened at the time. And there’s one quite popular derived form that showed up first in the 1300s meaning ‘timely’, then came to mean ‘opportune’ or ‘in good condition’, and gradually broadened in usage to be just a synonym for ‘orderly’. The word is not tidely, as you might expect by analogy with timely; no, that would be too tidy. Or, should I say, it would not be tidy enough – for the word is tidy.

Well. The tide might seem tidy, since it washes things away, but it’s hard to say – from the perspective of a sand sculptor, for instance – that it makes them more orderly. And when it ebbs, it often leaves a mess behind. Just like the tides of language change.


These people who write ranting articles – what’s with them, right? Like complaining about people who have a whole “birthday week” or eat avocado toast or put up their Hallowe’en decorations early or leave their Christmas trees up late or other bits of harmless joy. Where do these scribblers get off being so pissy? If I want to steal extra moments of glee in a glowering world, who are they to tell me not to?

Sure, pissy-lit (literature that’s defined by being pissy) is fun to read, in its way – venting at the inanity of some self-important or overly enthusiastic or weirdly childish or frankly ostentatious or simply socially ungrammatical practice. They’re great clickbait. Admittedly, for many people they’re what’s called a hate-read, but a clickthrough is a clickthrough whether for or against, just as a book that’s bought to be burned is bought all the same. (And do you really hate reading it? Why are you reading it, then?)

Still, for all their curb appeal, their eye-catching emotional garishness, even if you enjoy them, pissy-lit pieces are not the same kind of positive contribution that some other articles are. They’re the literary equivalent of weeds. Yes, in one way a weed is an over-successful and underappreciated plant, but if you have it in mind to grow other plants that might bring different benefits, weeds can choke them out. Likewise, if you read pissy articles, you’re just engendering further pissiness. 

Consider the dandelion. It’s a hardy plant, very successful, and, if we’re being honest, pretty and useful. You can have it in salads. You can have wine made of it. You can boil the leaves to make a tonic. But if you have dandelions on your lawn, one thing you soon can’t have without a lot of work (and poison) is much of anything other than dandelions on your lawn. And maybe you don’t want just dandelions. What do they do for you, anyway? What does consuming dandelion tonic do for your health?

The French name for dandelions is a clue to that. I don’t mean dent-de-lion, ‘lion’s tooth’, the origin of English dandelion (based on the shape of the leaves, not the flowers). I mean what they’re commonly called: pissenlit. If you know French, you know what pisse-en-lit means: ‘piss in bed’. They got the name not because they’re yellow, but because they’re diuretics. Drink the tonic of pissenlit before bedtime and you might well wet the bed – as was known in France by the 1500s (the first citation in Littré).

So there is my paronomastic simile. Pissy-lit is like a pissenlit – pissiness begets pissiness. And why are the authors of pissy-lit so peeved about these social practices, anyway? The answer is usually obvious when you read the articles, and it’s just the same as with people who rail against certain words or turns of phrase: they don’t like the people they envision as doing them, people who they see as inferiors trying to claim some kind of superiority, or trying by implication to force them to value something in a way that would seem childishly weak to them.

But am I not just being pissy about pissiness? Raining on the parade of those who like raining on parades? Hmm, is asking someone not to be mean just as mean as being mean? The basic mathematical principle that subtracting a negative equals adding a positive is good here as in so many social things. And sure, venting can be good, but finding ways to like things you had previously hated is even better – trust me, I’ve done it many times, and it’s a winner, because you have one more thing you like, and wouldn’t you rather be surrounded by things you like than by things you hate?

You may object that I am being unkind to dandelions, which can have many benefits if we choose to avail ourselves of them. And perhaps, for the sake of a bon mot, I am. But on the other hand, if I said I thought pissy-lit was dandy, I’d be lyin’. Those who live by urination ultimately meet their ruination.


You know glitz, of course, of glitz and glamour (or, sometimes, glam and glitz), offspring of glitzy (no, not the other way around). Glitz made its arrival in English in the 1970s (yes, really), and the first quote the Oxford English Dictionary has for glitzy is from The New York Times in 1966: “Advertising will stress that Devil Shake is ‘glitzy’. This claim will be hard to deny, at least until someone defines the word.” 

I’m sure you could define glitz or glitzy if you had to… right? But you won’t need to, because it sounds and looks exactly like it should to mean what it means. It has the gl- that so often shows up on words to do with light or shininess, and in particular it has the gli- of glimmer, glint, glisten, glister, and glitter. Along with that, it has the -itz of blitz, fritz, Ritz, and spritz – which sounds exactly like the -its of so many words (splits, hits, bits), but we know that that z is there, with its lightning look and its relative rarity. Between the gli- and the -itz, its meaning shines out, sparkles, flashes… perhaps even a bit too much.

Some people might guess that glitzy was formed from, say, glitter and Ritzy. It wasn’t, but it’s not surprising they would think so. Other people, looking at form, tone, and context, would guess we got it from Yiddish, and they’re probably right. And Yiddish in its turn got it from German (the other possible language English got it from): in German, glitzern means ‘glitter’ (and is related to some of those other gli- words).

But tell me, now, is glitz good? Is it great to be glitzy, or is it somehow tawdry, meretricious, trite, excessive, gaudy, garish?

Or is it both: overdone and wonderful? Or does it depend on what you like?

Glitz can refer to the sights of a fairground midway at night, sure, and similar sparkly things. But if you look at songs that use glitz – and there are quite a lot of them – or most other contexts of us, it’s almost always associated with show business, the bright lights of Broadway and Hollywood, the hyperreality of the world of stage and screen, even in more figurative senses: shiny glamorous people. And the implication is always that it’s not real at the core: it’s all a Fabergé eggshell, a gilded cage with Swarovski crystals on the bars. A wild ride, flashy and trashy, at the heart of it signifying nothing.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s why you go see these things – and for some of us, it’s why we go perform in them: to create and experience something special and exciting and far flashier than the ordinary. The mistake is just thinking that it’s real all the way down, and durable. You can’t have Champagne as your only beverage, no matter how much of a glamourpuss you are.

What is glitz? What gives it that blitz, that glint? What makes a spangle sparkle, a sequin scintillate, a crystal coruscate? Four things: a source of light, something capable of reflecting that light, eyes to see the light, and a situation in which the eyes will see the reflection in just the right way. It’s just like a word such as glitz: we have the sounds, the letters to represent them, a person to read the letters, and a language usage context in which that sound and spelling shines forth as the meaning. Take away any of those and it falls flat.

So enjoy it while you get it. And if it’s not what you want, don’t worry – it won’t last. Glitz flits to and from the spots it fits.