FEATURE: PAUL ANTHONY JONES’ SOOTHING WORDS FOR TROUBLED TIMES | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Newcastle-based writer and witty wordsmith Paul Anthony Jones releases his new book The Cabinet of Calm: Soothing Words For Troubled Times this month, here he talks about words appropriate to the current situation

Ever since the Coronavirus crisis first emerged at the end of last year, we’ve all picked up a whole new vocabulary (albeit of not particularly welcome) words and phrases. Super-spreaders. Droplet transmission. Social distancing. These days it’s hard not to watch the news or open the newspaper without adding a new word or two to our language.

But outside of all this talk of viral shedding and ventilators, what else does the English language have to offer to help us through these unparalleled and uneasy times?

I’ve been researching, blogging, tweeting and writing about the English language’s most obscure and longest forgotten words for nearly a decade. And in that time I’ve come across more than a few that might seem particularly useful given the times we currently find ourselves in.

With a third of the world’s population currently under some kind of lockdown or quarantine measures, it might be worth remembering the word oysterhood. First recorded in the mid 1800s, it’s a word for habitual seclusion or reservedness – think of it as a more figurative or poetical means of saying you’re being ‘socially distant’. Another nineteenth century term, housedove, was used of someone who preferred to stay at home and enjoyed their own space rather than anywhere else (though, admittedly, even they might be feeling a little frustrated by the prospect of weeks’ more isolation).

These times are by no means easy of course, and we’re all likely missing someone, something or somewhere special while we’re following the rules of lockdown. For that, the English Dialect Dictionary has a couple of lovely terms well worth remembering right now: lonesome-fret is a feeling of sadness or upset caused by solitude, while misslieness is the downheartedness that comes from missing something dear to you.

agathism is the belief that all things do eventually tend to get better

As difficult as these times are, however, it’s also worth keeping in mind that they will eventually come to an end. The restrictions that we’re all under will be lifted sometime, normality will start to re-emerge, and friends and families everywhere will be able to reconnect.

That will be the time for angel-visits – a nineteenth century word for catch-ups with the people that you love that are all too few and far between. It’ll also be the time for hearthmusters (groups of friends or family gathered around a hearth), habbernabbing (celebrating a toast with friends), and raccommoding (repairing or renewing old friendships and connections). Borrowed into English in the 1800s, there’s also a beautiful French word that will be worth knowing in the months to come: retrouvailles (literally a ‘re-finding’) is the happiness felt upon reuniting with someone you haven’t seen for a long time.

Until then, if there is just one word worth remembering given all that’s going on at the moment, perhaps it’s agathism. Coined in 1816, it derives from the Greek word for ‘good’, and is a word for the rational, more reasonable middle-ground between the two extremes of optimism and pessimism. In basic terms, agathism is the belief that all things do eventually tend to get better – it’s just that the means of getting there are not easy.

The Cabinet of Calm: Soothing Words for Troubled Times by Paul Anthony Jones is published by Elliott & Thompson on 14th May. For more witty wordplay follow Paul on Twitter @haggardhawks


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