Kind Words for Unkind Times
2020 is proving to be a tough year for many. The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed many lives and taken many livelihoods. Although the way forward is often spoken of as a battle between the choices of what is good for our health and what is good for the economy, it is clear that the state of the economy and the effect of it on jobs has a massive effect on both our physical and mental health.
‘The cabinet of calm’, a book published just last month, is, to some extent a remedy for when times are hard – and could be described as a book of ‘kind words for unkind times’. Each chapter describes the history and meaning of a little-known word that has relevance in difficult times. Whilst some of these difficulties may involve the environment and divisions within society, many difficulties are on a more personal level – despair and sadness, loss, disappointment and exhaustion – to name just a few. Through telling the story of words that have been used in the past in such situations, we are reminded that such feelings have been felt numerous times throughout history and by each generation. This can be a source of comfort.
One such word ‘aphercotropism’, describes a process that Charles Darwin witnessed in 1880 when studying pea shoots. Aphercotropism is the process, where plants when faced with a physical obstacle, find a way past that obstacle. Applied to our own lives, this might suggest that there is always a way around obstacles and that we do not have to be beaten by them.
Regarding everyday activity, we probably all know some people who need little encouragement to take a rest, and others who seem happy, or driven, to fill their time doing things that others would consider as unimportant and would feel ill at ease sitting down and ‘just chilling’. A word for an obsession with trifling issues is ‘Nugaemania’. Whilst this way of being may make life hard for us, its opposite – being ‘nugifrivolous’ might not be in our best interests either. ‘Nugifrivolous’ refers to the devoting of time to pointless frivolities.
Particularly relevant in this pandemic are a number of words related to family and friendship. ‘Antipelargy’ is a word to describe the “reciprocal, automatic and unquestioning love that connects parents to their children, and vice versa”. A positive spin to this, in this time of social distancing, might be that such bonds continue to exist, even if families are not able to physically meet as in the past. When reflecting on the nature and strength of friendships we have, we might think about ‘Angel visits’ and ‘Jamb-friends’: ‘Angel-visits’ are visits from friends that are all too infrequent, whilst ‘jamb-friends’ are ones who we could spend all night talking to.