Word play…

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Gosh I love words. I am re-reading “The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton. She has such a command of the English language. She uses the word “odious” on page 31. I’ve always loved that word. It is so veddy, veddy British. It’s synonyms are repugnance (good one), detestable, loathsome (love IT), abominable (hard to say), obnoxious. The word appeared around the 1400’s and has been used by the aristocracy and Charles Dickens ever since. The working classes wouldn’t be caught dead saying it but Miss Piggy uses it in “A Muppets Christmas Carol”. It’s one of my favorite lines. And those brash, upstart Americans? No way. We would say stinker (o.k. your granny would say that), jerk, or other more descriptive crass ones that are BORING!! When you use words like odious, people pause, and blink, while thinking to themselves: “Did she just say odious? Who uses that word”?

Well Edith Wharton did. Granted this famous American writer is dead now but I think the word still stands on it’s own merit. In “Mirth” I’ve had the pleasure of reacquainting myself with her tragic character Lily Bart. It’s the 1870’s and Lily is left penniless and must snare a wealthy husband to continue in the life she was accustomed. Because she is beautiful everyone assumes this will happen quickly but soon she finds herself dependent on grudging relatives. A woman’s only power then was to marry well. She’s caught between two worlds and the games weary her. Their really wasn’t much difference socially during this time between the New York upper crust and British aristocracy. This novel has a British tone for that reason. We demanded our independence but modeled our societies in much the same way.

Ms. Wharton focused on the bondage of society and marriage and was a woman before her time. Lily’s looks are fading and she is becoming resentful of the role she must play. She is at a house party and her maid has gone to bed, continuing  on page 31 ,”She had been long enough in bondage to other people’s pleasure to be considerate of those who depended on hers”. It had occurred to her that her and her maid were in similar positions but her maid got regular wages.  Sounds like a mom.

I am getting a cold so this is a good day to read more of this great book and of course it would be sunny out. I know… rainy weather is so odious!

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2 responses »

  1. I ran into “odious” today while reading Alexander McCall Smith’s “Corduroy Mansions,” a gift from my daughter. A page later I came upon “crepuscular.” It doesn’t mean what I thought it should mean!

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