Language, Beauty and Memory Part I-II

By Viken L. Attarian MSc MBA, Montréal

About a year ago, I had received an email from the UK containing an exquisite short story. I stored it on my computer under the directory of "Important Files" for future use.

By Viken L. Attarian MSc MBA, Montréal

About a year ago, I had received an email from the UK containing an exquisite short story. I stored it on my computer under the directory of "Important Files" for future use.

Some recent events that have touched me personally have triggered a memory to reread it, along with some other material which I had not touched since I was a teenager. More on that in a later post.

Here is the short story. Enjoy it !!!! The author is Edwina Charles

 

Pure Charm

By Edwina Charles


Father Thomas stared grimly into the hallway mirror at his nearly perfect reflection.

He rubbed his well-manicured hands along his not quite smooth jaw line, thinking a closer shave was in order, but frankly had not the time, nor the motivation. Let’s face it; his only appointment today was with the elderly widow Mrs Gluff, who was near sighted and unlikely to pass comment. Still, he prided himself on his immaculate appearance. He straightened his already stiff clerical collar, put his jacket on and slammed the door firmly behind him.

Father Thomas was a noticeable figure in the small docile village of Bushdaisy. He was tall, narrow and dark – a bit like a long shadow cast by the evening sun. For a tall man, it was amazing how he managed to walk at such a brisk and jaunty pace, as if there were springs in his shoes. He had a charm about himself that disarmed the villagers. Greeting them tunefully; “Hellooo”, he would call out in a jolly singsong fashion, with a quick flash of his spectacular white teeth. Mind you, not everyone liked him; Mrs Green who cleaned the church and tended the flowers wondered what he had to be so jolly about. Yet, most people found his greetings infectious and would respond in a similar manner.

It was quite a walk, before he arrived at Mrs Gluff’s house. In his opinion this was a queer little house, in a sloping street, where all the houses were bunched together with no visible separation. He stood in front of the small front door, which was far too small for him to pass through without the inconvenience of stooping. Had it not been for his moral duty towards his parishioners, Father Thomas would have vowed there and then never to venture into such a miserable district again; where frankly any black hearted fiend with an eye for quality could relieve him of his watch and wallet. He waited without patience at the door for what seemed like an age. After some time, Mrs Gluff let him in apologising for her incapacity; she proceeded to move with great care and discomfort back to the sitting-room and into the comfortable armchair by the fire. “Take a seat Father. As you can see I’ve prepared tea and biscuits, so you won’t go hungry,” she said. Father Thomas stared down at the unappetising display; he had no intention whatsoever of eating what appeared to be stale biscuits and over-brewed tea. However, he smiled generously, “So kind of you Mrs Gluff, you should not have put yourself to so much trouble, especially in your fragile and clearly vulnerable state of health.” His compassionate words spoken in that silky smooth manner touched her deeply. When they were both seated, Father Thomas held up a hand, “Please allow me”. He poured the thick dark liquid into her teacup, then poured a handsome measure of milk from the small dainty matching milk jug. Reaching into his breast pocket, he retrieved a small leather bound bible, and at once began his reading, doing his best to ignore the loud chomping and slurping sounds of Mrs Gluff attacking her tea and biscuits. Soon the hour passed.

Before he left, Father Thomas gently took hold of Mrs Gluff’s dry weathered hands and held them between his own soft palms; “I shall take these teacups to the kitchen for you and then see myself out, now don’t you argue with me.” Mrs Gluff beamed again and sat back in her comfortable chair bemused by the sight of this tall good-looking figure of a man busying himself in her kitchen. Her Harold, bless his soul, in all the years they had been together had never once made himself so useful.

On his way out, Father Thomas hesitated in the dimly-lit space between the stairs and the front door. He looked at a rather exquisite figurine, which he had spotted when he first arrived. It was really quite beautiful and ought to have been placed in more suitable surroundings; he knew just the place for it. Shaking his head in quiet frustration, he picked it up, then with great care he wrapped it in his white silken handkerchief, popped it in his pocket, and left, shutting the door firmly behind him.
 

Language, Beauty and Memory part II

The short story Pure Charm actually triggered many memories in me. The style was exquisite and "exquisite" is an adjective that I always associate with two notions. Firstly, the infinite possibilities within languages and the mastery of its writers, secondly, specifically with the Armenian language itself.

To demonstrate the subtle ways that language works, here is what I remembered reading many years ago and managed to track it down in cyberspace.

This anecdote is told about Professor William Thomson, a.k.a. Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), the great physicist and inventor of the Kelvin scale.

When he was a professor of natural philosophy at Glasgow University for some fifty years, William Thomson, unable to meet his class one day, posted a note on the door of his lecture room: "Professor Thomson," it said, "will not meet his classes today." As a joke, some of his mischievous students erased the "c," leaving a message reading: "Professor Thomson will not meet his lasses today." The following day when the pranksters assembled in anticipation of the effect of their joke, they were chagrined to find that the professor had outwitted them. The note was now found to read: "Professor Thomson will not meet his asses today." (from www.anecdotage.com).

Isn’t language marvelous that it allows itself to be played with like that?

Now Armenian is even better, because it has more letters (originally 36 and now 38) which allows an even more sophisticated word play. You just have a bigger palette of letters to choose from.

Take for example a common word known to many. The word Srpazan-, which is a title reserved for the upper echelons of the religious hierarchy, mainly bishops and archbishops. and it literally means "adorned with holiness". And rightfully so, because they are supposed to act in a holy fashion and within the contextual framework of an exemplary moral and ethical behaviour.

Armenian has a letter called Tsoh, and here it is, "", in the printed form it looks like the letter g of the Latin alphabet, and it is very inconspicuous. Most languages reproduce this sound with two letters. Armenian is frugal and uses a single letter for it. Actually, the scientific name for it in the International Phonetic Alphabet is the very confounding voiceless alveolar affricate. Go figure.

Here is a perfect opportunity to beat the great Lord Kelvin at his game. All one has to do is to add this one single letter behind the word Srpazan and presto, true magic happens !!! We have the word Srpazants-. A word that means "desecrator of holiness".

Now something tells me that the inventor of the first word, also mischievously invented the second. He was trying to teach us a lesson.

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