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02 February 2010

Words that are just plain, well… weird

Ma’am is one weird word. Ma’am – you spell it how? What does that even mean?! Is there a glottal stop in there? Is it a contraction? If so, what are the two original words? Okay, I just Googled it. It is in fact a contraction for the word madam. Since when do we use contractions for one word? Why lose just one letter if we’re going to do that? It takes just as long to type the apostrophe as the letter “d.” And why waste it on such a small word? If we’re opening the door to contracting single words, why not try it out on something more worthwhile, like say “mortuary.” It could be shortened to mo’ry (which would definitely save us some time and effort). It even sounds less creepy that way... mo’ry …yep, definitely less creepy. Just read the two passages below and you’ll see what I mean.

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Passage 1: MORTUARY

It was a dark and sinister night. It was stormy too – unusual for the time of year. Yes, it was an abnormally dark and stormy sinister night. The young woman held tightly to her umbrella, waiting for the bus to come; willing it to arrive sooner than its scheduled stop at 10:30, fifteen minutes away. Five minutes was a lifetime in this part of town at night. Fifteen was an eternity. A lone stray dog wandered the otherwise abandoned street in search of the rotting scraps that somehow found their way to the gutters outside the butcher houses lining either side of the street. A street lined entirely by buildings dedicated to the bloody slaughter and dismemberment of some of Earth’s gentler creatures. How odd such a place existed. How unfortunate the circumstances that had left her stranded here, waiting an eternity for a bus she hoped would come. The thin rain continued to fall, depressing her spirits even further. In the shadows it was easy to imagine the languid rivulets of water slipping past to be blood oozing from the streets themselves and draining through blackened grates like great gaping mouths with rotting teeth, hungrily lapping at the liquid. The quiet gurgling sounded almost intelligible. If she listened hard and long enough she was sure she could make out what it said. It sounded like a warning… or a threat.

She feared what she might hear, but listened anyway. As she strained she heard the footstep. The wet thump, thump, thump of someone behind her; close behind her. Panicked she whirled around, the dog and streets and blood and gutters and mouths and words forgotten as her heart tried to pound through her chest. Before her stood a man in a black coat, without hat or umbrella to shield his mottled hair from the rain. He grinned a twisted grin and as he reached for her said in a greasy voice, “Evening ma’am, I’m on my way to the mortuary, perhaps you can be of assistance to me.”

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Passage 2: Mo’ry

It was a beautiful spring morning. The day was crisp, but not cold. In fact, it was pleasantly warm for the time of year. Yes, it was a beautifully pleasant warm spring morning. The young woman swung her umbrella idly – while the weatherman had promised a sunny cloudless day, she liked to be prepared. She quietly waited for the bus, scheduled to arrive in fifteen minutes or so. Breathing in deeply she almost wished the bus would be late, giving her a few extra minutes to just enjoy being outdoors. Time seemed to pass too quickly at times like these. There was even a dog happily sniffing around down the street to keep her company. He was likely searching for a scrap or two of the delicious bread produced by the various bakeries that lined the street on either side. A street lined entirely by buildings dedicated to the art of perfectly browned loaves and pastries of every kind imaginable. It was a place wondrous enough to put a smile on any child’s face. How fortunate the circumstances that had allowed her to spend a short time here, luxuriating in the smells while she waited for a bus she almost hoped wouldn’t come at all. A pleasant breeze languidly coursed down the street, invigorating her senses further. Closing her eyes, it was easy to imagine herself completely alone without a care in the world, the breeze carrying all her worries away, taking them to the sky where they would evaporate in the welcoming rays of the sun. The sun was so bright and warm but not the slightest bit harsh. It comforted her and seemed like an old friend who had come to visit. If she listened long and hard enough she was sure she would hear it greeting her – calling her by name.

She was amused by the thought and listened intently for what it might say. Instead of the sun, she heard only the rhythmic thump, thump, thump of someone walking her direction. Intrigued, she turned toward the sound, the bread and sun and breeze and old friends momentarily forgotten as she quickly checked herself over to make sure she was presentable. Before her stood a gentleman in a charcoal grey suit, tailored perfectly so as not to hide his athletic figure. He grinned a boyish grin, and in a slightly apologetic voice said, “Excuse me ma’am, I’m on my way to the mo’ry, perhaps you can be of assistance to me?”

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You see how such a simple change in one word can dramatically alter the feel of an entire passage? But I digress. Back to my original statement – ma’am is one weird word.

2 comments:

Susanna said...

wow, that is one dramatic difference. it's amazing the change something so simple can do.

Julie V. said...

You should write a book, then more people will be smiling!

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