For the Love of Affixes and Prepositions… Part 10.1 “Ob”

[This post represents a relaunch of my ongoing series of posts for poets and language-lovers on the beauty and history of English prepositions. It now includes affixes.]

Words that end in –ob tend to be coarse. ‘Gob’ is a vulgar word for mouth. When I was a kid, there used to be a kind of sweet called a gob-stopper. As the labored assonance and alliteration suggest, it was a large hard spherical chunk of candy, a treat preferred primarily by yobbish boys. Many of these gob-stopper-chomping boys have probably since grown up to be slobs—the kind of obese middle-aged men who overeat, underdress and lounge around uselessly on the sofa most of the day.

Protesters turn into a mob when things turn ugly, even when they are posh snobs. A lob is a clumsily struck ball in sport. I could go on, through knob and rob, all the way to Steve Jobs.

These are all vulgar, very English words, grubbed up by peasants from the linguistic dirt of piecework on sodden farms on the fens, scooped up by sailors from the interlingual bilge sloshing around in the bottom of boats.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the social scale, schoolmen skilled in Latin, logic, grammar and rhetoric were busy in their ivory towers inventing new erudite words beginning with ob- to much the same effect.

Whereas –ob as a quasi-suffix, coda or rhyme has weeviled its way up from the gutter in the English lexicon and still bears the hallmarks of its insalubrious origins, ob- as a prefix was handed down from Latin urbi et orbi through the august institutions of the grammar school and the Anglo-Catholic church.

But the obtuse flavor of such words, if veiled, remains essentially the same.

Obstacles, obstructions, obduracy, obstreperous behavior are obviously things—albeit abstract ones—that bump up against us, thump or oppose us and generally get in our way.

It is easy to overlook the importance of these seemingly disruptive words and the objectionable things to which they refer. But many of them have gone on to play a major role in the development of a modern objective form of science based primarily on empirical observation.

The upcoming second part of this post will examine the weird way in which the upstart obs of this world have in fact shaped our modern civilized age.

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17 Section 7 Park

[Here is the full version of Section 7 of 17, an ongoing long poem on the fairly grueling subject of a mass shooting. Part 2 of this section was recently posted on this blog as a free-standing poem/song in tribute to the schoolchildren killed in Parkland, Florida. Part 1 consists only of quotations culled shamelessly from the Internet. Part 3 continues the ruthless narrative thread of the poem.]

17 Section 7 Part 1

Park: Middle English: from Old French parc, from medieval Latin parricus, of Germanic origin; related to German Pferch ‘pen, fold,’ also to paddock. The word was originally a legal term designating land held by royal grant for keeping game animals: this was enclosed and therefore distinct from a forest or chase, and (also unlike a forest) had no special laws or officers. A military sense ‘space occupied by artillery, wagons, stores, etc., in an encampment’ (late 17th century) is the origin of the verb sense (mid 19th century).

The Online Etymological Dictionary

 

In this County [Hantshire] is New-Forest, formerly called Ytene, being about 30 miles in compass; in which said tract William the Conqueror (for the making of the said Forest a harbour for Wild-beasts for his Game) caused 36 Parish Churches, with all the Houses thereto belonging, to be pulled down, and the poor Inhabitants left succourless of house or home. But this wicked act did not long go unpunished, for his Sons felt the smart thereof; Richard being blasted with a pestilent Air; Rufus shot through with an Arrow; and Henry his Grand-child, by Robert his eldest son, as he pursued his Game, was hanged among the boughs, and so dyed. This Forest at present affordeth great variety of Game, where his Majesty oft-times withdraws himself for his divertisement

–Blome, Richard (1673) Britannia: or, A Geographical Description of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, with the Isles and Terratories thereto belonging.

 

Wood (adj): violently insane (now obsolete), from Old English wod “mad, frenzied,” from PIE *wet- (1) “to blow; inspire, spiritually arouse;” source of Latin vates seer, poet, Old Irish faith poet, with a common element of mental excitement. Compare the Old Norse god-name Odin. 

Wood (noun): Old English wudu, earlier widu tree, trees collectively, forest, grove; the substance of which trees are made, from Proto-Germanic *widu-(source also of Old Norse viðr, Danish and Swedish ved tree, wood,  Old High German witu wood), from PIE *widhu-“tree, wood” (source also of Welsh gwydd “trees,” Gaelic fiodh-“wood, timber,” Old Irish fid “tree, wood”). Out of the woods “safe” is from 1792.

The Online Etymological Dictionary

 

17 Section 7 Part 2

Song # 6 Parkland Requiem Chorus

From the swamped flora of the east

to the stars and baked desert valleys,

space and shining surf to the west,

from Alamo through rocky mountains

to wet Seattle,

from Sunset Boulevard

through South Side Chicago to the Bronx,

from Broadway to La La Land,

through Yellowstone

along the yellow brick road,

over the Interstate

on the Internet,

we sing in unison

and plead our common cause:

one nation under God.

*

We lay down snowdrops,

crocuses, prim-

roses, blue-

bells, hosts of

daffodils, over-

valued tulips and orchids,

humble asphodel,

pinwheels, irises, blossom, bread,

bracelets, apples, chestnuts, candy, candles

—all the fruits of nature and labor—

before the autocratic factories of your

automatic profits and arms.

 

Gum, ice-cream and lipstick no longer grace

our mouths. We tear off our pretty clothes

and dump them down in a jumble at your gates.

We pour our perfume down your drains

and solemnly process—

unlit, ashen, naked, gunshot-residue scented—

to lie down on and under the cold slabs

of morgue and grave yard,

angrily to sleep eternity away.

 

17 Section 7 Part 3

The whole street is now ablaze.

Mike legs it through the iron gates into the park,

crawls up a carefully crafted knoll

into undergrowth, surveys the winding park lanes:

families steering kids around in push chairs,

boys remotely controlling toy boats and feeding ducks

on the shallow weedy lake; girls playing with dolls

about its artificial banks,

pansies laid out in geometrical patterns in beds

by uniformed keepers

following the movement of the sun.

The acid-rain-eroded unknown soldier

atop the war memorial looks out at

the ruins of the cotton factory and

the rusted unused bandstand that still pumps out

silent forgotten martial music

to ghosts in unoccupied deck-chairs,

the half-deaf old folk

staving off dementia with a game

of crazy golf or bowls. Kids

with Down syndrome or Asperger’s

clamber over slides and swings, sandpits and roundabouts,

under keen parental control.

Folks walk their dogs out for a shit.

Fluffy nimbi bob around in sky-blue skies,

presaging calm, scattered showers, maybe,

not a massacre of souls. Mike

lets rip

with automatic rifle fire, his sight

ducking in and out of the muddy undergrowth.

Mothers scoop kids up amidst a flurry of flying skirts

and wetted short pants

out of playgrounds, off of slides and swings,

breaking a stumbling heel in panicked haste.  Dogs

off the leash go beserk. A ricochet

triggers a mental wound in an old soldier. He seethes

in seizure on the clean-cut grassy ground. Everything

is calm. “Don’t worry, dears. It’s nothing,”

mom calls out to two small boys

dressed as pirate and naval officer

throwing tantrums against the gruesomeness of the noise.

Parkland Requiem Chorus (17 vii Part I)

[I am not a US citizen but, in the wake of the recent spate of school shootings, I felt compelled to pen this Whitmanesque patriotic song for the only country in the world that has aspired to provide a homeland for all the dispossessed.

This is a stand-alone poem that also serves as the chorus that introduces the 7th section of my more nuanced long grim poem about mass shootings entitled simply 17]

 

Song # 6 Parkland Requiem Chorus

 

From the swamped flora of the east

to the stars and baked desert valleys,

space and shining surf to the west,

from Alamo through rocky mountains

to wet Seattle,

from Sunset Boulevard

through South Side Chicago to the Bronx,

from Broadway to La La Land,

through Yellowstone

along the yellow brick road,

over the Interstate

on the Internet,

we sing in unison

and plead our common cause:

one nation under God.

*

We lay down snowdrops,

crocuses, prim-

roses, blue-

bells, hosts of

daffodils, over-

valued tulips and orchids,

humble asphodel,

pinwheels, irises, blossom, bread,

bracelets, apples, chestnuts, candy, candles

—all the fruits of nature and labor—

before the autocratic factories of your

automatic profits and arms.

*

Gum, ice-cream and lipstick no longer grace

our mouths. We tear off our pretty clothes

and dump them down in a jumble at your gates.

We pour our perfume down your drains

and solemnly process—

unlit, ashen, naked, gunshot-residue scented—

to lie down on and under the cold slabs

of morgue and grave yard,

angrily to sleep eternity away.