Every once in a while I run across the word "vicarious." Since my notion of its meaning has always been hazy--and I'll bet yours is, likewise--I resolved to look it up. And I've done it, after three years of trying to remember. It means: performed or suffered in place of another. The only way I can engrave the meanings of unusual words in my memory is to write them down; so this column should serve that purpose at least.
This word recalls an association of childhood days. There was a certain woman whose chief interest in life seemed to be the uplift of all fellow creatures with whom she came in contact. That included me: I needed plenty of uplifting. She taught me sensible and wholesome things like what constitutes good literature, that symphony orchestras can be enjoyed (modern jazz bands consequently irritate me, unless I am actually dancing), that some traditions deserve reverence, and that flower gardens can be interesting.
There is no denying that I profited by knowing her, and she became the goddess of my sophisticated teens. And hundreds of others must have felt the same about her, for she was tireless, and was just an incident to her. But she was so far above me, like an ideal, that affection tried to reach her, but couldn't. She lived a long and useful life. Vicarious affection for her memory has succeeded reality.
Speaking of unusual words--Many people, including myself, take an unconscious pride in displaying seldom used words, whose meaning they have mastered. This tendency is harmless if not carried too far. In fact, everybody should be expanding their vocabularies, if for no other reason than the pleasure of the thing. But I have listened to people who love to pepper the atmosphere with perfectly good Shakespearean English, which might as well be jungle grunts. The pride of the speaker may be satisfied, but the purpose of speech is defeated. It seems to me speech is intended to convey thought. Short words pack more meaning into a single moment of attention. Ninety-nine per cent of our words have to be caught on the fly. Long words belong to studious moments. Now, having established a rule, watch me violate it; and I'll be darned if I make any effort to avoid desecration thereof.
Have you ever analyzed the almost universal statement "I can't afford it?" Aside from those who are actually lacking in the necessities of life, and have no luxuries--a surprisingly few in this country, at least--we really can afford many things we deny ourselves,. I don't mean we should not deny ourselves something in order to live within our means. But much that we "cannot afford" is merely that which we desire less than that which we obtain. How many people in your circle of acquaintance drive a car, attend the movies, belong to clubs, or doll up--all, rather than buy or improve their homes and be content with the simple life? Life isn't simple, I guess.
Let's talk about the election. Goodness knows enough has been said and written to render further remarks superfluous. But plenty more will be said and written, and I wonder what good it will do. Campaigns at this stage always degenerate into just plain ballyhoo; appeals to reason are a thing of the past. I have yet to talk to anyone whose mind is not already made up. There may be a class of voters who can be stampeded at the last minute to the band wagon of the side which appears to have the advantage. But I shudder for democracy if the present blarings from the radio are the criteria of sane judgement. Did you ever listen to children trying to settle an argument thus: I didn't--you did--I did--you didn't?
Go To Next entry Return to entry dates