Current Essays

Intense difficulties On:2001-02-16 09:21:48

Over here we seem to be having intense difficulty with what are known, in high-brow linguistic circles, as intensives: words or phrases that are used to intensify, or perhaps point out the importance of, something, as when you say "First of all". That "of all" means that whatever-it-is is really, really first rather than "neyh, sort of first-ish". That's why you can't really say "Second of all". Second just isn't that important, especially over here! You might as well say "twelfth of all", or "seventeenth of all"

But you can, of course, say "Last of all", I mean, that can get pretty intense.

Then there is all that business of being at the centre of things. Why, now is it no longer just a centre, but has become intensified into an Epicentre? Is this the choice, now, of epicures? I suppose the prefix was innocently introduced by well-meaning geologists describing earthquakes, but for them it surely isn't an intensive, it simply means that, since earthquakes tend to take place underground there is a place on the surface that is directly above the centre of the quake. That's all the "epi" bit means--'on' or 'above' or 'near'. And why, oh why, is it that every single change is now a sea-change? I'm getting seasick of it! What is so intensive about "sea" anyway? Presumably "sea-change" comes from the Tempest---from Ariel's lovely, invisible song, and surely, if only out of respect for Ferdinand's father, the phrase should be reserved for changes that involve an end-point that is rich, strange and at least four and a half fathoms under water.

Anyway I had drifted on quietly for more than twenty years of American sojourning without this sort of stuff making much of an impression on me until recently, when I happened to drive from here in Plano, TX, to visit my eldest son Raedwald down in Delray Beach, FL. Somewhere around Pensacola, FL, but amazingly only halfway there, I passed, in an otherwise unremarkable town, a church that proudly proclaimed itself to be the Second Baptist Church of wherever it was. My whole conception of the universe changed (Oh, dear---and I was near the sea too!)

Anyway I was flabbergasted! In all these years of searching (well maybe that's a bit too intense a term for what I was doing, but let it stand), in all these years I have never seen another church or a bank (to include that other great institution of worship) that has ever admitted to less than primary status. It's first or "forget it"! In fact I'm surprised that I haven't yet seen a "First-of-all Notional Bank of Plano".

Perhaps there is an historical, a mundane, a pragmatic reason for all this First-ing of banks and churches (and probably lots of other things too) that is just too subtle or culturally weighted towards you natives for me to notice. But I bet there is a real reason too. And that reason probably involves dark, powerful urges, intense lusts that it is better we don't disturb.

Why else do you think so many of our towns and cities and counties want to be first-of-all in the whole wide sea-changing, epicentric world---in something, in---in anything, even if it's only as the Cowboy Capital of the World ( like Bandera down here in TX), or the Covered Bridge Capital of the World (that's Parke County Indiana) or even, like Venice, FL, for some unimaginable, terrifying reason, The Shark Tooth Capital of the World---I suppose that's where you should go if you ever want to get a bite. I wonder if these guys ever saw Jaws?

But, as I said, I'm not touching any of it. . .

Cheerio for now
Richard Howland-Bolton

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