Friday, October 11, 2013

Groovy words

The list began my junior year in high school.  My best (and often only) friend Mary and I somehow or other began a list of what we considered groovy words, "groovy" itself being one of them in those mid-1960s days. 

Many were of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican origin -- Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan, Macchu Picchu -- because Mary and I were in Spanish class together and our teacher, Charles Schlereth, was introducing us to the native cultures of Mexico and Central and South America.

There were also a lot of French words on the list -- fait accompli is the first that springs to mind without actually looking at the original compilation, and gendarme -- as well as just interesting words that we came across in our reading, such as juggernaut and klipspringer and rambunctious. 

I kept track of my copy of the list in a spiral notebook; Mary kept hers, too, though I'm not sure where.  Forty odd years later, at a class reunion in 2006, we met again for the first time in decades and both of us had the lists with us.

Words meant a lot to us then, and still do.

But there was more.

Mary and I engaged in a bit of civil disobedience involving words.

We were allowed, in our school, to spend assigned study hall periods in the library.  The infamous grand study hall in room 42-44, in the damp and musty basement of the school, was a good place to escape from, and so unless forced to do so, we chose to spend that period in the library.  If nothing else, the library was bright and sunny and of course, it had books.

We liked books.

The library had a procedure for taking attendance, which involved the filling out of a small slip of paper handed to you by a library aide as you entered.  There were places for name and other identifying information, the date and class period number, the assigned study hall number, and the last line was simply labeled "Purpose."

As far as we knew, no one ever actually filled out the last line.  I mean, everyone was there to escape study hall.  Whether you were going to study, read, do homework, draw a picture, who cared what you were doing?  No one ever wrote anything on the last line.

Mary and I didn't.

And each period, the aide or a student assistant walked through the library and collected all the attendance slips, then sorted them and returned them to the original study hall for attendance.

But one day it came into my head that I was going to fill in the blank space on my attendance slip.  Since I was even in those days a writer, I simply wrote "Create."   Yes, I could have written "write" as my purpose, but I didn't.  I chose "Create."  I wrote it in the space in my very nice handwriting and put the slip on the edge of the table for collection.

Nothing happened.  The slips were collected, but no one questioned my purpose; probably no one noticed. 

Mary and I began to fill in the blank line every day with "Create."

And still nothing happened.

After a week or so of this, we became bored.  It would have been easy, since no one paid any attention to our little innocuous prank -- which really wasn't a prank because I was working on my novel and Mary was writing poetry -- to just drop it and go back to leaving the line blank.  But people who love words as Mary and I did are not able to leave blank lines blank once those lines have been filled with words.

And so we began to fill the blank each day with a new word, but not just any word.  They were always verbs ending in -ate.  Pontificate.  Elaborate.  Elucidate.  Incorporate.  Prognosticate.  Bloviate.

Nothing happened.

We didn't use bad words or suggestive words, and the verbs we chose all had something -- even if remotely -- to do with a legitimate reason for being in the library.  Prevaricate.  Fulminate.  Excoriate.

Of course, after a few weeks of this, we finally got caught.  One of the librarians confronted us with our teasing and banned us from the library for a week.  We protested that we were only filling out the form as required, but that didn't do us any good.  More than likely someone saw one of those -ate verbs, didn't know what it meant, and felt they were being mocked.  So we were banished back to the wasteland of study hall for five days, where we had time to ruminate on our behavior and contemplate our sins.

When we were once again permitted to spend that period in the library, we continued to fill in the blank line.  Generally we used less controversial verbs to accommodate our oppressors, but we did not change our behavior.  The words were that important to us.

When we met 40 years after high school graduation, Mary had a list of all the verbs she'd been able to find ending in -ate over the years.  Hundreds of them.  Maybe thousands.

And they all had meanings.

All the words do.  That's what makes them so groovy.

(Posted in honor of our October birthdays -- Mary's, Charles's, and mine.  Librans rule!!)

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