“The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.”
~ George Eliot.
“Farmer Jones walked up the path, drunk as usual.” I have never forgotten that line, the opening line to a book thrust into my hands when I was maybe eight years old. I had just started school in the hills of Jamaica, and my English accent and reading ability meant that I was a source of amusement to my schoolmates. Evelyn, my first friend there (until I grew suspicious of her reasons for ‘friending’ me) was the one who had asked me to read out loud. No coincidence that my name was Jones, and that it was designed to embarrass me. Fortunately, I could read silently, and so I handed it back to her without saying a word.
One of the joys of teaching nursing classes is that there are so many subjects that a nursing student has to learn, there is something for everyone. In much the same way, there is endless variety in nursing roles, from conception through to the end of life; from the acute in-patient high drama trauma unit to the peaceful, dignified, transition to the great beyond. It is hard for a nurse not to find her (or his) comfort zone. For someone like me who loves nursing, who loves math and science and words, there is something to love in every topic to be taught.
The challenge for the nursing student of course, is that there is so much to learn. And medical terminology is a whole new language built from blocks of sounds: of word roots mixed with prefixes and suffixes and combining vowels. One word’s prefix may be another word’s suffix! And the roots themselves may be Latin or Greek. You can play with these building blocks and create long trains of syllabi which sound super-intimidating, but when broken apart are merely descriptive. To undergo the procedure of a bilateral salpingo-oopherectomy means to have both of your fallopian tubes (salping) and ovaries (ooph) removed (ectomy). I like words that have hints in the sounds of what they mean (a little bit of onomatopoeia!). For example, hemoptysis means to spit up blood – the heme being the blood (iron really, but they link the iron in hemoglobin to blood) and the ptysis is Greek for the act of spitting. It even sounds like it!
My father was Welsh through and through (although born in Liverpool). He had the typical Welsh love of language and of music. I won’t even talk about the Welsh language itself, with its double lls making a weird, wet, hissing sound (think of Llewellyn), and its town with the longest name in the world (Llant……………gogogoch), but if you read Dylan Thomas, you will understand how the sound of the words in his poetry were as important as their meaning. That man loved alliteration, assonance, clever combinations of consonants that echoed and bounced through his lines.
I have been thinking about words this week, and for some reason kept thinking about different words that have the syllable ‘plic’ in the middle. Sometimes life seems so complicated when what is needed is a little simplicity. We may need to duplicate or replicate. But what is scary at this point in time, is that we are being made to be complicit in some acts of duplicity that you cannot believe are being carried out in plain sight.
The acts of mankind upon each other and upon our world seem to be bringing such rapid deterioration to our home, our planet earth, that we have to wonder if we still have time to save it. Do these times call for activism or supplication? Do we have to get down on our knees and cry a river to cool down this planet?
I am reminded of my father’s response, when asked by a church member whether he thought that the end of the world was at hand. This was 50 years ago, when we weren’t quite so close to midnight on the Doomsday clock. He told her that he was selfish enough to hope that the world would go on long enough for his children, his children’s children and their children to survive. It is said that the Iroquois nation looked at how their actions would affect up to seven generations in the future before making decisions. Unfortunately, it does not seem that capitalism, and its need for a healthy return on its investment cares much about their impact on even one generation.
But back to my ‘plic’ words. Following my father’s advice to ‘go look it up’, I hit the google. At first, I could only find definitions, despite asking for word origins. But finally I found a site that made me happy. One source suggested that ‘plicare’ comes from the Latin meaning to fold or roll. So complication means a ‘complex combination or intermingling’. And although the opposite, simplicity also has that ‘plic’, it seems to come from a different origin, so no folding involved. I further found that there is also a Proto-Indian root for my ‘plic’, which is ‘plek’ – meaning to plait or weave, and even the Greek ‘pleken’ which means to plait, braid or intertwine.
It is clear that our problems are complicated, and being made more so every day. But unless we recognize how closely our fate is intertwined one with another, we may all unravel together. My father, in his latter years (before dementia stole his precious memories) used to muse upon the ‘rich tapestry’ of his life. He had been blessed to make his home among a wondrous diversity of cultures, he had moved easily from the mad rush of city living to the ‘soon come’ tropics of Jamaica. He knew very well that human beings have much more in common than they are different, and he respected and loved all of those traits that make us unique.
This Friday morning I hope that you can find ways of multiplying joy and appreciation. I wish you words to express that joy, and silence to savor the wonders of our beautiful world. I wish you patience in these duplicitous times. And as Mother Theresa advised: “Live simply, so others may simply live.” Have a wonderful weekend, Family!