Gal­li­maufries to green grass

The Covington News - - Opinion - Bar­bara Mor­gan is a Cov­ing­ton res­i­dent with a back­ground in news­pa­per jour­nal­ism, state gov­ern­ment and pol­i­tics.

If you read last Sun­day’s Cov­ing­ton News, you may have seen a di­a­tribe about this pa­per in the form of a let­ter to the ed­i­tor from a man named Fel­ton Hud­son of Stone Moun­tain. In it, he also took a harsh swipe at my per­sonal opin­ion col­umns, call­ing them “pedan­tic gal­li­maufries.” More on that in a minute.

Now I don’t know Mr. Hud­son per­son­ally, but he has on more than one oc­ca­sion over the years sent let­ters to the ed­i­tor to this pa­per that have been rather crit­i­cal of some­thing I’ve writ­ten. I want to thank him for be­ing such a reg­u­lar reader of this pa­per and of my col­umn in par­tic­u­lar. I ap­plaud any­one who sup­ports the ex­is­tence of news­pa­pers, a sub­ject near and dear to my heart. How­ever, if some­one who lives in Stone Moun­tain has the time to write testy rants to this small pa­per about a sole colum­nist among many this pa­per prints, per­haps he needs some­thing more to do.

As a writer, I love words and I par­tic­u­larly love learn­ing new ones. A story in last week­end’s Wall Street Jour­nal writ­ten by Christopher Shea re­ported on a team of physi­cists who be­lieve they’ve dis­cov­ered univer­sal prin­ci­ples that ex­plain the birth, life and death of words. In their pa­per pub­lished in a jour­nal called "Sci­ence," the physi­cists es­ti­mate there are one mil­lion English words in ex­is­tence, “far more than any dic­tionary has recorded,” cit­ing the 348,000 words that ap­peared in the 2002 Web­ster’s Third New In­ter­na­tional Dic­tionary. They’ve found that the life span of words is short­en­ing, the “death” of words, in­creas­ing and the “birth rate” of new words, slow­ing.

Now on to Mr. Hud­son’s choice of words to den­i­grate my col­umns. “Pedan­tic” is an ad­jec­tive: “char­ac­ter­ized by a nar­row, of­ten os­ten­ta­tious con­cern for book learn­ing and for­mal rules.” OK, I’ll ad­mit to a life­long fond­ness for “book learn­ing” and “for­mal rules” that be­gan with my up­bring­ing. Ed­u­ca­tion is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial to qual­ity of life, as is life­long learn­ing, and rules — call them laws — are nec­es­sary to reg­u­late how in­di­vid­u­als in­ter­act with each other, how gov­ern­ment in­ter­acts with us and vice versa. Where would we be with­out them? But os­ten­ta­tious? I chal­lenge that de­scrip­tion. “Showy” is the syn­onym, and I be­lieve I can say with some con­fi­dence that any­one who knows me per­son­ally would dis­agree with that sug­ges­tion.

The noun that fol­lowed pedan­tic — “gal­li­maufries” — sent me to my dic­tionary, and I’ll thank Mr. Hud­son for that. The word was a new one for me. In its sin­gu­lar form, it means a “jumble, hodge­podge,” and syn­onyms are “mis­cel­lany,” “pot­pourri,” and “sal­ma­gundi.” Ha, an­other new word! Sal­ma­gundi is ei­ther a mix­ture or as­sort­ment or, cu­ri­ously, a chopped salad whose in­gre­di­ents are laid out in rows. I will­ingly ac­cept a de­scrip­tion of my col­umns as mis­cel­lany or pot­pourri: “a com­bi­na­tion of in­con­gru­ous things.” It’s also a sweet-smelling con­coc­tion of dried flower petals and spices. Ev­ery home should have some.

Mr. Hud­son went on to dis­miss my col­umns as be­ing about noth­ing more sig­nif­i­cant, ap­par­ently, than “why the grass is green and the sky blue.” Ac­tu­ally, those are pretty in­ter­est­ing sub­jects. Noth­ing is more beau­ti­ful than a clear, blue sky, the best, in my opin­ion, oc­cur­ring in Oc­to­ber of each year. In our lives, don’t we yearn for those blue-sky mo­ments when ev­ery­thing seems clear sail­ing and easy, when noth­ing for­bid­ding lurks on the hori­zon?

The sky is blue for a very good rea­son, not just be­cause it’s a beau­ti­ful color. It’s that ev­ery color in the spec­trum has a dif­fer­ent wave­length, red hav­ing the long­est and vi­o­let, the short­est. As light speeds through the at­mos­phere, the longer wave­lengths like red, orange and yel­low pass right through, but the shorter wave­lengths, the blues, are ab­sorbed by gas mol­e­cules that scat­ter and ra­di­ate in all di­rec­tions. The pre­pon­der­ance of blue vis­i­ble to the eyes makes the whole sky seem blue. Aren’t we lucky?

That grass — in­clud­ing trees and shrubs — is green is also a func­tion of light. Grow­ing things are filled with a sub­stance called chloro­phyll that’s used in the process of pho­to­syn­the­sis to cre­ate the sug­ars that plants need to fuel their growth. Chloro­phyll hap­pens to re­flect the green light com­ing from the sun, mak­ing liv­ing plants ap­pear green. Re­search has shown that green is the most re­lax­ing and de-stress­ing color of all. And if you aren’t sit­ting out­side un­der a tree or wig­gling your toes in a vel­vety stand of grass, look­ing at a com­puter screen that shows a picture of a green meadow has al­most the same ef­fect on calm­ing our psy­che. Might I sug­gest that to Mr. Hud­son?


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