It was early March, 2018 when I realised I’d found the answer to a question that had been niggling at me for decades. That answer itself took only three years of pondering, but the question took what felt like all of my then 29 rotations to clearly define.
The moment of clarity came during a swing dance festival camp in Herräng, Sweden. I’d met a person who, like all unforgettable people, was the distillation of a personality trait I adored: she was forever in awe of the world around her. I found myself in need of defining that state of knowing wonder, to better understand that part of myself, and to look for it in others.
If you’ve ever said something unexpectedly insightful in conversation and watched your friend’s perspective shift, seen their eyes widen in step with their mind and a spark of curiosity ignite, then you’ll know the kind of “child-like wonder” I mean.
…But there lay the problem that nagged at me those final years; why did wonder have to be “child-like”? Humanity has always envied excitement and awe, especially in our kids, so why, I struggled to understand, had my language segregated it away from adults with such a diminutive term? I started hunting for a more apt word.
Stories are all the better for being able to take time at their own pace, so I’ll abbreviate the thousand odd evenings perusing dictionaries, exploring with friends and toying with distant new languages (learning them extremely badly) just enough to get an honest feel for their “awe-ful” phrasing; my desire to find this word continually reinforced by my inability to describe it succinctly.
One evening, chatting to another inspired soul over that perennial marvel the internet, we turned to etymology and the origins of the words we were already using for inspiration. Here it was that we found two charming words and portmanteaud them (yes, you can verb anything); it became how I describe that inspiring friend and so many others. A word you’re probably familiar with by now, given where you’re reading this:
There’s a chance you feel an earlier familiarity with it; its two root words have other children sat firmly in two aspects of the world often seen as opposites; if you’ve ever heard stories of miracles or the progress of science, then you’ve met the offspring of the Latin words mirus, meaning wonder, marvellous, amazing, and scio, to know or be aware. In this way I think of miriscience as being an awareness of the marvellous things, of knowing wonder.
I also find it marvellously appropriate, and appropriately marvellous, that the deeper roots of mirus sit in the proto-indo-european word sméyros, meaning to smile. And smile I absolutely did when I finally had a name for the feeling that has, and no doubt always will, dominate my worldview.