The Whole Thing

Once upon a time, there was a mighty word from Old Norse that meant a decision-making assembly, charged with important business–you know, futhark-laden, land-holding, axe-wielding, men-only stuff.

Over the centuries, this ancient and esteemed word became care-worn and lowly, a word to toss in the mix  when the other words in our heads block all the light and leave us grasping.

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On its journey from mighty þing and mightier Alþing to simple thing, it even lost a letter. The gracefully curved thorn, along with 11 other siblings, didn’t make the cut into the modern 26-letter alphabet.

Yet, through thing‘s very ubiquitousness and utility, its insistence on cropping up again and again when a better word would surely suffice, it stands as a miracle of survival and resilience. Its distinctive starting sound, made by thrusting the tip of the tongue between the teeth and aspirating silently (‘th’) has become a hallmark of spoken English, a frustrating exercise for some non-native English speakers–and has defied the attempts of a few born speakers, too.

We suspect even Julie Andrews required elocution lessons to enunciate things with aplomb.

Favorite Things
..and then I don’t feel so bad.

Thing is, I grew up being shooed off from delicious, old words like thing. The vagueness it supposedly lends to a sentence is bad news to English teachers and buttoned-down employers who think they know what’s what. Yet try getting through just one day without it. You’ll learn a thing or two about its value.

Robby gets this.

Thing is the comfortable old blanket in many sentences, a humanizing sign that we’re actively thinking, that our minds are not perfect, our logic not impeccable, our things all in a muddle. Many things defy our understanding, and many more defy description.

The old words are the best words. That’s the thing I’m trying to say.

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3 thoughts on “The Whole Thing”

  1. I would be rendered inarticulate were it not for “thing.”
    You know, that thing I was talking about before…
    The thing of it is…
    Did you remember to pick up the thing I asked you to get?
    And variations: Where did I put that thingie I was just using?

    I love this thing you wrote! I look forward to more things of a similar nature!

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