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A man, a dog, and his dictionary

(a journey to wake up what the earliest writers embedded in those words we read)

I’ve always loved words, and likely so have you.

There are few powers on earth like them.

You can taste them on your lips, shoot them like wind between your teeth, label the world with their philosophies, boundaries and definitions, or just plain celebrate the sounds of them.

What I often wonder about though in this post-modern sea of amalgamated meaning and reinterpretationing is do we occasionally risk losing some vital key to the universe simply because we hyper-casually alter the image and dimension of an idea sketched forth for us through foundational linguistic design.

Why do I ponder this? Because once, when dragons were small, we allowed a word to lord over us what we understood of our world. A word became our teacher. Later we grew to share the stage with words, co-commanding knowledge and instruction, learning and exploration. Now we have since entered an era where we tell words what to do and where to go. In other words, we stand in the new luxury of saying to said term you no longer mean what you once did; now you instead mean this! Shazam! And this could be problematic, though certainly fun and empowering at times. For to what realm did we banish the old meaning, and what did the black hole of our presumptiveness just swallow?

So I want to play a bit with a dictionary again. Feel its gravity pull me. When the fancy strikes, I shall crack open the pink one — which often falls off the coffee table and frightens my highly spookable hound — turn to the page which represents the day’s date, select the first word thereon, and wander a while in the framework and micro-world of that singular appelation, just to see where it re-takes us.

Since today is September 14th (9–14), I turn to page 914 in the dusty book. The first word on the page is POMANDER, and I love it already. A beautiful “random” find because it’s a word we almost never use any more. Webster’s 9th New Collegiate Edition paints it’s meaning for us:

  • apple or ball of amber. a mixture of aromatic substances enclosed in a perforated bag or box, used to scent clothes and linens, or formerly carried as a guard against infection; also a clove-studded orange or apple used for similar purposes.

I love fruit. More than most, I think. So this word does a lot for me. I attract toward pleasant smelling things, especially clothes and linen. What comes out loud from the event and item of POMANDER is a reminder that this sensorial laundering has long been with us, the yearning or need for things to present freshly, cleanly, vibrantly, sweetly. I also adore that this is one thing which the fruit of the earth actually does for us.

It also very intriguing to me that health and good aroma are linked. In one sense we can doubt this, for what have we truly cured by embalming a corpse with better smells, or removing foul ones? Or what have we officially removed by flummoxing the bathroom with flowery mist after someone has just killed a rainbow unicorn in the toilet ? But it appears we want this all the same, and that what we are ultimately after is the sense of health. And perhaps that’s often all we need, at least psychologically speaking.

I love the modesty of a simple orange or apple, laced with clove or cinnamon, doing the task for us back then. Good riddance (or pre-existent non-existence)to those chemicals and synthetic vapors which seek to amuse us now, but do who knows what else to our atmospheres.

It seems, though, that it isn’t just aroma humans were chasing with their POMANDER; they were also magnetized to the gold-yellow color of amber. Folk-medicine used to employ the fossilized pine needles for all sorts of “life-improving” reasons. Whether electrifying dust, varnishing grand artifacts, warding away evil, or using amber’s alleged healing properties, the yellow myrrh was often more than just something ornamental.

Again, it is fascinating the properties we imbue or discover in icons of beauty and mystery. We seem fated to love what is ancient, and adore what is ornate.

Have we, the post-modern elites, left the days of POMANDER behind us? Doubtful. For what else is the cologne and bauble and lotions and potions industry today, if not a form of POMANDER?

So what can we take away from this word, this apple of golden pine dew?

Maybe it’s some simple things like:

  • Take a bath, people will feel healthier around you?
  • Scent your clothes with good old earthy ingredients, you’ll feel better about yourself.
  • Realize that at our core we connect what the senses (taste, olfactory, etc . . .)tell us, to what we’ll believe is actually true, for better or for worse.
  • We are superstitious folk, with a penchant for pleasing baubles, colors and aromas

My hound is now looking at me, wondering if I’m going to give her a bath again? You know, because that will make her smell better, eliminate chances we’ll catch a virus and be bed-ridden for ages. I look at the dictionary and wonder what I’ll do. She covers her eyes with her paws.

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