I was, for many years, prone to writing any unfamiliar word I’d encounter on a bookmark (with the page number next to it) and immediately looking up its meaning in the dictionary. Then I’d read the sentence armed with this new knowledge and understand exactly what the writer meant by using the previously obscure word. This excellent habit was instilled in me by some wonderful teachers. I recall, in High School, taking the vocabulary sheets they distributed quite seriously. Little else they endeavored to teach me in High School meant very much to me, but expanding the number of words I could use to express myself clearly always made sense.
Now, with Jeevsie here, constantly by our side on the ubiquitous internet we carry around with us in our pockets, it is very easy to instantly have any unfamiliar word defined for us. So it was the other night, when, drawing some knives, relieved that my favorite pen was behaving properly after a few days of struggle with her, I suddenly, unaccountably, wrote the word ‘anodyne.’
After I wrote it (I recall now hearing it months ago from Noam Chomsky describing the ‘anodyne explanations’ we get for each of our most unjust practices) I immediately looked it up. Which took about 1.2 seconds with our modern data retrieval capabilities. What a handy little fucker of a word!
We prefer the anodyne to the difficult, without a doubt. An anodyne explanation usually smooths us down, a difficult conversation often churns us up. Take American slavery, for example. One can say, with great conviction and moral certainty, that it was a grave national sin that has not been practiced here for 150 years. Abolished forever a century and half ago, our Constitution amended to make it perpetually so. Done and done. Nice and anodyne, wouldn’t you say?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like a little anodyne myself, once in a while. And you know how hard it is for me to lie.