Onometapoeia: (n.)

Noun

A word that’s spelled like how feels to say.

//

As every dorky seventh-grader knows, onomatopoeia is what we call it when a word’s spelling emulates its own sound.

Bump! Blam! Zlorp! (yes, zlorp…)

We think of them as play words, childlike and fun, connoted as they are so often with children’s literature, comics, and cartoons. Batman’s Biffs! and Thwacks! The cold snikt of Logan’s claws. The thwip of Spidey’s webs… Nightcrawler brimstone BAMFs

But onomatopoeia aren’t just fantasy sounds. They’re like us. They’re dull. They hide all around, studding our drudge as we slap our blaring alarms in the morning and honk or our horns in traffic. We click our mice and tap our keyboards. We Scratch our scalps. Rattle the ice in our empty cold brew as we flip through magazines and crunch on our salads (as opposed to that dripping, sizzling burger your buddy got).

Everywhere smartphones ring and emails woosh and elevators chime as we shuffle and gabble and prattle and chatter and whisper and hollar and whine through the beeping and splashing and crashing and roaring and plinking and belching and zipping and zooming and tearing and hissing and hooting and blaring, tintinnabulatory world.

Gary Oldman GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

But there’s something else I’ve noticed: A species of word so seemingly similar to onomatopoeia, it’s often overlooked. These are words that aren’t merely spelled to emulate their sound – rather, the work it takes to sound them emulates what they mean.

There should be a word for all these words. Not onomatopoeia… but onometapoeia. Words whose spelling tells the story of how they feel.

Ever notice how smooth the word smooth is? Say it out loud to yourself. Smooooooooth. No bumps. No wrinkles. Not one ruckled phoneme. Smooth is pure smoothness from tip to tail. It slips effortlessly from the mouth like a hand over a bedsheet.

And slip!

Think of the journey a slip takes. How it slides on the slick s, then lifts off the palate on the l, hovers aloft for the breath of the i, before collapsing finally on the cold, terminal p. Every slip slips from the lips.

Say it to yourself. Do it now. I dare ya. Slip.

bahijjaroudi animation loop cartoon life GIF
Behold a guttingly existential animation – a testament to that brute of fruits: the banana.

Spot one, and you’ll start to see onometapoeiae everywhere

How lazy lazys feel luxuriating across a sentence, stretching out like housecats. How looms loom long and dark, and boats bob on the buoyancy of their vowels, hulled by consonants. Every fling is flung from your teeth and tongue. Even tongue. It fills the mouth to say its name.

These words are little stories of themselves. Sleeks dive like falcons. Swamps feel like boots stuck in mud. Yonder echoes. Lather foams. Wrench and pry take oomph and muscle. Your ear might hear a bell ring. But you can feel in your mind the wring of a washcloth.

Slink. Velvet. Snuggle. Swivel. Frond. Crouch. Shine… They’re endless.

Even nipple is a story of itself. A sprightly bump, it juts and puckers, calling unanticipated attention to itself. Have you ever heard someone say nipple in casual conversation? You can’t take your mind’s eye off it as it peeks through the cotton t-shirt of someone’s sentence. Nipple is so… nippleish… innocent and dirty at once.

All this to say… look around at the words around you, and lean closer to the ones you can hear. And if you can’t find an onometapoeia… just look down. There are two (hopefully) waiting for you just under your shirt.

Swallop: (n.)

Noun

The feeling of being clobbered in the chest by a hasty gulp from a carbonated drink.

///

One day, a few years ago, I’d taken my car in to the garage to have some expensive part re-expensived. After a mere five minutes I’d managed to annoy the mechanic, so when he offered to get me a ride back to my apartment (as it would take the day to re-expensive my car), I panicked and insisted that I could walk.

This was in August. In New Jersey. And the heat and humidity had already reached critical, mouth-like levels. This was also during the long chapter of my life when I refused to wear shorts (an almost Calvinist period of affected self-denial, courtesy of my 20s). So, leaving him my contact information, I trudged out the door and waded my way through a hundreds-degree swamp of blinding sunlight, and choking humidity.

In jeans.

For about four or five miles.

By the time I made it home, I was quite near death. I shambled into my apartment groaning like a madman. I unbuckled my jeans which, being completely soaked-through with sweat, dropped to the floor and pooled around my feet. I needed hydration desperately, so I flung open my refrigerator and grabbed a frigid bottle of seltzer water, which I downed in one sloppy, guzzling swig.

All was slaked and satisfied. All was crisp and cool. And in an instant… regret pierced relief like a knife in the heart.

The carbonation, all jazzed up by its whitewater splashing down my gullet, went full supernova in my esophagus. It felt like I’d swallowed a hot rock, or a fistfull of bees. My eyes watered, my ears rang. I listed about the kitchen like a drunkard, too dazed to be still, too beset to adequately flail. I pounded my hand on the countertop once, twice, the pressure building and building in my chest… as if at any moment a fount of seltzer would burst, Xenomorphically, through my ribcage and redecorate my kitchen in Panebianco Red.

Ready to pop, I reeled back, opened my mouth wide, groaned the guttural groan of the over-seltzered… and I burped. Burped a burp that was more than a burp – it was a kind of birth. A tearing, keening, muscle-knotting display of physiological theater.

A kind of meat opera.

I coughed. I drooled. I dabbed tears from my eyes. And finally I laughed – alone, in my underwear, standing in my kitchen beside an open refrigerator, my pants piled about my ankles, an upended bottle of seltzer glugging its remaining contents onto the floor. And, as ever, my brainless cat standing sentinel, gawping at me in abject befuddlement.

In another few seconds, that moment would be gone. I would wipe my face and pull my pants up… pat my cat on his furry head, and move on with my day. I’d cancel my car-contingent plans. I’d clean my cat’s litter box. I’d make a sandwich, and watch an episode of Frasier (no doubt). I’d return to the ordinary stuff of days that right now I couldn’t possibly recall with any accuracy.

But that episode with the seltzer bottle – that I can’t possibly forget. Moreover, it acts in my memory like a lens – bringing into sharp focus the moments that proceeded and followed it. Amid all the things I’ve forgotten – important and inconsequential alike – this day I remember in vivid detail. Had it not been for that idiot spasm of seltzer-fueled grotesquerie, followed by the absurdity of me in my undies, drooling like a doofus and wiping my face on my forearm… I wouldn’t remember that day at all.

That’s what a moment of foolishness does – it sticks in your memory like a pushpin through a photograph. It holds fast that which time and nature seem so dead-set to take away. And the only cost is a little bit of pride, and the reminder that your body is way more gross than you’d like to admit.

How lucky is that?

Lathergy: (n.)

Noun

When you’re too lazy to bother shaving.

///

Greetings, fellow sufferers. How fare you in these cursed and plagued times?

I don’t know about you… but I haven’t shaved in weeks. I don’t quite see the point. If the world is going to end, I’d might as well dress the part.

Trouble is… I don’t grow facial hair the way most men grow facial hair. My unshorn face looks more like a cat pillow. Wispy, errant, and sparse.

And yet, the longer I wait the prouder I become.

I used to roll my eyes at those baroquely moustachioed man-chaps… and with good reason, sure. It takes a certain kind of twerp to wear a vandyke while ordering yoga pants on an iPhone. All those tiresome hipsterettes with their twee little moustache tattoos on their fingerside. Enough, I say. Enough.

But the longer I wait… the more I see.

My moustache… it’s growing fuller. My cheeks and chin are knitting together. Broader. So many Movembers and Moustache Marches I’ve sat by, soft-faced and sidelined. But now I see my beardlette growing darker, potent, and powerful.

What if I didn’t shave at all? What if I stopped all forms of self-care from the neck up? Would I summon enough to one day have a knotted Dwarven warrior-braid?

Or the conical stalactite of a Pharoh?

Martin Van Buren’s sideburn corona?

A Rabbi’s tetragrammatonic pour?

A Marxian whisker riot?

O! So many me’s I could be.

Patrophy: (n.)

Noun

The withering and degradation of one’s national pride.

///

Eligible citizen looking for something new that just feels like home. 38. Professional(ish) male. Non-smoker. Loves reading, hiking, baking bread, movies with and without subtitles, constitutional democracy, and the rule of law. Has a dog and a cat. Not interested in religious extremism, grinning stupidity, or fascism. Seeking same. 

Ambleguity: (n.)

Noun

The bumbling, directionless gait of the lost, the elderly, and those staring into their smartphone.

///

You know when you’re walking…

Let’s say you’re at a mall or something. And you’re kinda angry to be there because malls are horrifying and gross and way too goddamn big and they smell like depression dabbed in cologne… and you’re trying to just get a goddamn pair of khaki pants (you refuse to call them chinos, because who authorized that name change?) but to do that you have to sift your way through a clot of sneering, obnoxious teenagers who slurp Orange Juliuses with the blithe indifference of a creature too blinkered and boring to be aware of its own mortality, and they’re all standing in a henge of kiosks hocking bright, cheap tchotchkes – bubblegum colored weaves! The Zero-G Yo Yo! Some crappy RC helicopter emblazoned with the Albanian flag! – and once you finally lace your way through, you’re pleased because you see the store ahead of you… but there, directly in your path, is some pocket-sized grannie with a sky blue knit cap who’s shuffling from foot to foot, not even looking where she’s going, just slowly floating along like some lost and derelict moon drifting aimlessly through space… and you try to go around her, but she oozes in your path, and so you dart a bit left, but she lurches that way too, and you find yourself on the balls of your feet, waltzing with some woman who doesn’t even know you’re there… and everything’s making you mad, but you can’t really be mad at everything so instead you just funnel all of your frustration at the back of this little old lady’s head even though you know deep down that she doesn’t deserve it, and she’s hopefully really sweet (but she’s probably a little racist) and you say, “Lady…” but not as under your breath as you had intended, and she jumps a bit and turns her head and looks at you with eyes that say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I used to be so much faster…” and it puts a chill to all your hot blood, and you stop for a moment and think of how stupid you are to get so frustrated – to be in such a hurry all the goddamn time to get wherever it is you think it’s important to go… so you blink, and you say, “I’m sorry,” and she smiles, and then you walk into the store buy your pants…

That ever happened to you?

Scholeric: (adj.)

Adjective

Irritability and cantankerous one experiences while talking to the academically disinclined.

///

I had a professor back in college who absolutely despised his students. You could just tell. There he was, a man who had spent decades of his life dedicated to study and scholarship, forced to share his painstakingly hoarded minutiae with a room full of yawning, boozy teenagers day after day after day…

Every class would begin the same – with him as fresh and buoyant as warm laundry. “This time will be different,” his posture seemed to say. “This time they’ll see why this stuff is so important.”

And, of course, each time we’d shrug and drowse and stare back at him with wide, bovine eyes. By the end of class, he’d be stalking around in front of the room, red-faced and burbling with a tepid, cerebral rage like a leopard in a sport coat. And still we’d just sit there and watch him rant. 

In the next year or so, I’d wake up. I’d start to give a shit. I’d come to class ready to discuss. But I wouldn’t fully understand the extent of his frustration until ten years later… when I’d be the one pacing in front of a room like that (in some cases, the same exact room… as I taught classes at the same college I’d myself attended)… flailing my arms around, trying to summon even a flicker of excitement in my students.

“Here, look at this,” I’d say to my kids, “some writer made this… he wrote it hundreds of years ago. And it’s still just as true now as it was then. Do you see how magical that is? That there are experiences that transcend culture, time, language, oceans… that there’s some seething undercurrent to existence that touches every human life? See how some play from the Renaissance, or some poem from the 1950s can both be about the same thing, and yet be totally different? That our heart and our mind are a set of rubix cubes that we jumble and solve, jumble and solve over and over and over again? See how everything matters? Even thought it doesn’t? Surely you can see how this could move someone. Surely you can understand why I’m up here talking about this to you, despite the fact that I can barely afford my rent while doing it. Because this language has affected me so profoundly that I want to be close to it. Share it with you. Because it matters. (and also, I’m allowed to wear slippers to work)”

Sometimes they’d get it. I was a decent teacher… hardly a scholar (I find pushing commas around a thesis to be soul-crushingly dull)… but I was good at infecting others with my enthusiasm. I was good at making people care. Even if it was just for 50 minutes.

But boy howdy… there were times. Students – usually boys, because boys are without question not less-intelligent, but better at stupid than girls could ever hope to be – who wore their apathy like a badge. Who’d roll their eyes and smirk and stretch their limbs disdainfully, “See that buddy? This is how bored I am. This is how few fucks I give.” These are the kids you hate. I mean hate-hate. That black, tarry muck hate that you can’t hide, no matter how hard you try. Some over-valued, under-challenged, mean, suburban puke of a kid who looked at college as a beer pong tournament rather than a place to learn… whose dad – totally – owns this dealership.

You look at that kid and think… someone isn’t in college because of you. Someone’s raking leaves, or salting french fries… and there you are, sprawled in a ballcap and sweatpants, checking your Facebook on your iPhone for $22,000 a year.

And then you remember that you were probably more like that kid than you’d ever want to admit. And you remember that poor, wan professor from ten years before… that poor schmucky guy with the widening belly and dwindling hairline who capered around the room at the start of every class trying desperately to show you why it all mattered… all while you doodled in your notebook, and tried to catch the eye of the girl you liked.

And you realize that you’ve been both those people. That they’re both so different, and they’re both the same… because they’re both you. And you wonder if anyone would want to sit and talk about that, and how much it reminds you of so many books you read with passion when you were young.

Unentendrenal: (adj.)

Adjective

A statement, phrase, or description that sounds like innuendo, but you honestly didn’t mean it that way. You swear.

////

Once, while at a backyard barbecue, I was offered a wiener by a Lutheran youth minister.

He was a jolly chap – a human pastel – who assured me with an earnest smile that I could have as many wieners as I liked. He directed me toward the buns for my wiener. And the condiments to put on my wiener. All I had to do was say so, and he would cook me up a wiener right away.

This was back in my early teens, during my brief summer as a Lutheran.

… by which I mean I had a crush on a girl in a Lutheran youth group, and so  feigned faith in her god in order to woo her…

… by which I mean I spent a summer drifting through barbecues and ropes courses like a dorky poltergeist, lingering on the periphery of every conversation, too afraid to introduce myself.

She had scarlet hair and freckles and was a full foot taller than me, and I adored her.

Ah, youth.

Anyway…

Look… if we’re being totally honest here, I’m embellishing a little bit about the wiener thing. But ONLY a little bit. I swear. He really did offer to cook up my wiener. Straight face. Big smile. Wiener. And then he put his hand on my shoulder and aimed me toward the buns. Whatever other embellishment I added was done A. for comedy, and B. to highlight what I love about, if not all Lutherans, then at least the Lutherans I knew while pretending to be one.

This is it: Lutherans are nice.

Like, really nice. All of em. Even the mean ones. The whole of the Lutheran community is pathologically pleasant, sweater-vested avuncularity. Every one I’ve ever known has been tall, polite, and at least partly (mostly) Scandinavian. They invert my every expectation of theological zeal – Where others worship, Lutherans praise. They don’t preach from the pulpit, they share in the safe space of the circle. The drama and severity of Martin Luther’s rigid, teutonic theses notwithstanding, the world to a modern Lutheran seems one big rumpus room… a place to take a load off, sip a 7UP, and talk about their friend Jesus while tuning an acoustic guitar.

All this niceness. It’s… just so… nice. And here’s the thing: I don’t trust it. On some basic level, down in my bones, I find it suspect. Because I, unlike my lovely Lutheran friends, was raised by Italian-Americans, and thus given suck from the brambled bosom of the Catholic church.

And there’s nothing nice about Catholicism, let me tell you.

Oh, sure… Pope Francis has overseen a modern rebranding effort these past few years. He’s a sunglasses pope. The kinda pope you could high-five. But Catholicism itself? Would you high-five Catholicism? Hell no. Because we all know – down in its dna – there’s nothing nice about it. All that blood ritual? The obsession with violence and torture mythology, the submissive dogma? From Mitre to slipper, the whole ordeal is a gilded, monarchical terror pageant. And that shit sticks with you.

Plus, I’m sorry to say, in a catholic context? A weiner in the buns has a very different meaning.

Which is why, all those years ago, standing in that lovely back yard and politely accepting that youth minister’s wiener, I smoldered with guilt and fidgets. Because I’m trained to demand the creeps from any situation. I’m irrevocably programmed to look for the darkest timeline.

It makes life complicated.

Fun! Hilarious! Worthy of note!

But woof. Ya know?

Autocowrecked: (adj.)

Adjective

When the text or message you intended to send is ruined by the intrusiveness of your smartphone’s autocorrect function.

///

I received a photo of my newborn niece this morning.

Okay, hold up. I’m lying a bit. Full disclosure: she’s not my niece.

I have no siblings. I’m an only child. Hence the catastrophe of my personality. But still!

She’s my cousin’s daughter. But my cousin and I were born six-weeks apart and raised in social proximity, plus we’re Italian-American so we’re basically brothers. I’m claiming him as a brother. I’ve abropriated him. Boom. New word. Abropriated. Be impressed. In lieu of flowers, send flours. I’m into baking these days.

Puns.

Anyway.

So he sends me a photo of the little peepin’ spud… and she’s a cutie. A feat, considering that she’s a newborn caucasian… and not to make it a race thing… but white babies newborns are… rough. Mottled. Lizardish.

But she’s cute! So I texted him as much:

what a cutie

But that dreaded autocorrect function took that text, and interpreted its subtext:

what a chore

Words cannot capture the restraint it took not to send that message to him. Because… comeon. Imagine how funny that would be. Those would literally be the first words I’ve ever spoken about this child… to anyone, let alone to her father. That poor bastard, all sleep-deprived and proud of his most recent contribution to overpopulation… he sends over a salvo of pictures of his 10-pound-boucin-baby and what does he get? What a chore. That’s friggin hilarious!

But I didn’t send it. I corrected the autocowreckt. Because I’m an adult. And because sincerity is the order of the day.

So ducking annoying.

White Wail: (n.)

Noun

White people’s obsessive persecution complex in response to multiculturalism an economic justice

///

I try to avoid extreme positions. It’s not that I don’t have extreme feelings; nearly all of my feelings are extreme. Ask anyone who’s watched me talk to or about my cat. I’d compose arias to the little goblin if I could. But in nearly everything else, I strive to stay somewhere in the middle… for perspective if no other reason. I’m a centrist in my politics. A relativist in my morals. And a moderate on nearly every subject except Shakespeare (I know), astronomy, and sandwiches.

And my cat. He’s the best. 

But there is one absolute I’ve developed over the years – something ironclad:

Rich white people need to stop complaining about their own victimization.

Immediately.

I say this as a straight, white man of the upper-middle class born in the 1980s. When it comes to the span of human history, I’ve won the goddamn lottery. Everything has been handed to me. I’ve wanted for nothing. I’ve experienced personal pain and tragedy, of course. I’m human. But in nearly every respect, life has offered to trim the crust from my sandwiches from the moment I slipped into being.

Fellow white people, dudes mostly… here’s the deal: We’re not victims. Not at the hands of racial and economic justice, anyway. We can’t be – it’s fundamentally impossible for us to be so – because the very mechanisms of victimization were built by people like us long ago, belong to us to day, and ultimately turn and churn for our benefit. We are the beneficiaries of a broken, unjust system built on denying equal access to justice, money, land, and basic human dignity. For further reference, I urge you to either consult the whole of human history, or just look around the world right now. Both the past and the present are the footnotes to this concept. I urge you to consider them.

I’m not going to say someone can’t be rich – I don’t know enough about economics to really understand the ramifications of such a concept. And I’m not saying that a white person can’t be proud of their cultural heritage. I’m an Italian-American, and I’m super happy about it. I get to wear black and be neurotic and just fundamentally make better meatballs than you do. It’s tons of fun. But here’s the thing, y’all. White people can’t claim victimhood. Ever. That’s the cost of owning pretty much everything… you don’t get to whine when your ownership is criticized. We could dismantle the mechanisms of white supremacy. We could offer reparations for what our ancestors took through force. But we don’t. And therefore we can’t claim the dignity of victimhood. It’s that simple.

So stop. Stop debasing yourselves with the term. And please bring a swift end to the theatrics of it all. We’re not benighted. We’re not beset. And we’re not at war. Not yet.

It isn’t “class warfare” until your head is in a basket.

Until then, it’s just people trying to get their share of the pie.