Tag Archives: Quagmire

Funky Town (Get Down)

John flopped down on the couch next to me last night after working on his photography blog and sighed.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’m in a funk,” he replied.

Now, I love funk. Not just the music–the word, too. It has such a rich sense to it. Every language has their concepts that just don’t translate well into other languages, and I would not be surprised if some expert told me that “funk” is one of the proprietary words of English. It’s a crazy word. “I’m in a funk” roughly translates to “I’m sad and tired and discouraged. I don’t know what I’m making of my life. For the life of me, I can’t find the path out of this emotional quagmire.” And we’ve all been there.

To borrow from the Neil Diamond: “Song sung blue, everybody knows one.” When I’m down in a funk, I can’t reason myself out of it. I might be able to look what I’m feeling in the face and list off the whys of what’s got me down and the wherefores of why they shouldn’t be dragging me under, but it makes no difference. My usual reaction is to eat chocolate and blow off my responsibilities by watching old movies. By the way, Brando fans, why do you always praise A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront and never mention the way Brando complete outshines Sinatra’s “Luck, Be a Lady“?

When John’s in a funk, I always feel a little helpless. I can tease him, put fluffy kittens into his lap, listen to his frustrations, and offer advice; the truth is, a funk is a state from which no one can extract you but yourself. Sure, people can toss you lifelines and tools, but in my experience, those have a way of hitting me on the head when they land and making me resentful of their presence. No one can make you climb the rope or build a ladder. You have to make the choice to do it your own darn self, and making that kind of choice when you’re in a funk is just not likely to happen.

Here’s where the other type of funk comes in: the musical kind. There’s something about it that changes my mind about life. Maybe this is crazy, maybe this is just me, but when I hear funk, I hear a stronger soul dancing the path in front of me to teach me how to change my own mind. It’s not in the lyrics–seriously, does anyone even know what “Brick House” is about? But I can’t hear those famous opening notes from the Commodores without feeling like somebody who has been a lot lower is showing me the way back out of my funk.

So…to get out of Funky Town, I have to get down in Funky Town. I don’t know why, but that works for me. I could say a lot more on the subject, but I run the risk of sounding like a pompous talking head. So instead, if you’re even feeling the need to be led out of a deep funk, drop by, pop on this playlist, and know that there’s a good chance I’m dancing with you…

TNQDE: Bog-Bog

I told you yesterday what the word was gonna be.

“quagmire”

The best thing about this word is that it sent me off to the library to hang with the OED for a while because the AHCD had absolutely nothing on its etymology. I guess, as words go, there aren’t any deep human truths buried in the meaning of the word, so perhaps it was one of those etymologies the AHCD editors just had to cut. While I was there, I picked up a nifty word for Thursday, so make sure you come back then.

“Quagmire,” you might have easily guessed, breaks down into two parts: “Quag” and “mire.” (Strong syllable breaks are such telling things.) “Quag” first shows up in the record around 1589 A.D. as a word for “marsh.” Interestingly, “quagmire” predates “quag” in the written record by ten years, as far as the OED folks demonstrated in the concise version, at least. The possible paths of meaning and causality are all over the place with this one, because “quag” is supposed to be from the same root as “quake,” the Old English cwacian, whose stem “cwac-“ is from cweccan, which forms the base for words  implying instability and agitation. Although cweccan is seen in words talking about the instability of things as early as 825 A.D., “quag” doesn’t show up as a non-marshy word until 1611 A.D., when it’s first written down as being a verb meaning “to shake” (usually said of something flabby). So is a marsh a quag because it’s unstable, or are unstable things quags because they have marsh-like qualities? Probably the first, but the record is a messy one.

Moving on to “mire” is possibly enlightening because, guess what? “Mire” means “bog.” It means it today: I can be mired down in paperwork or bogged down in paperwork. The connotation is more or less the same. It also meant the same thing, as far as we can tell, in the hypothetical days of English’s structural parent: Original Teutonic. This language, which we’d have to travel into the B.C.’s to get to, is the real parent of English, although our linguistic ties to Proto-Indo-European are so strong that we can imagine English essentially running away from home to be fostered by the PIE circus. Anyway, “mire” was from the Old Norse myr-r, which came from the Original Teutonic *meus-, from which we also get the modern “moss.” It meant “moss, lichen, or bog.”

So…given that our options for “quag” are either “bog” or “shaking,” we can either say that quagmire originally meant “bog-bog,” “shaking bog,” or “shaking moss.” Poetically speaking, I prefer the last, but I’m going to hazard a guess and say that the second option is at least more plausible than the first. Can you imagine running around and calling something a “bog-bog,” then generalizing such a silly term for use in discussion of your state of being?

Well, maybe. Those British are quite silly, aren’t they?

Pythons & Witch Logic