Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Fungible Shallop

I learned two new words this past week and until a few minutes ago I didn't know what to do with them.

The first one came while Mars and I were lying in bed listening to "The Marketplace Morning Report" on our local public radio station. It was during that period of time when we've woken up but are not yet willing to admit it, so we lie there with our eyes closed and our minds and ears half open.

A female reporter with an English accent was speaking. I was aware enough to remember that -- but not what she was talking about. Then, very clearly, I heard the phrase "fungible assets".

I mumbled something like "there's a word you'll only hear on NPR" and Mars responded equally unclearly that it always made her think unpleasant thoughts of mushrooms and their fungal kin.

"What does it mean anyway?" she asked.

"I'm not really sure." Then I put the thought to sleep and awoke completely.

A few days later we visited the Wadsworth Atheneum to see an exhibition of portraits by Rembrandt and to have lunch at the museum cafe. On our way out we wandered through another gallery and were confronted by J.M.W. Turner's very large nautical painting "Van Tromp's Shallop, at the Entrance of the Scheldt."

In spite of the size and placement of the artwork all that I saw was the totally unfamiliar term on the adjacent object label.

I immediately thought of the other new word I had been given, and began to wonder what I could do with the two them together.

"Fungible shallop. Fungible shallop. Fungible shallop." I repeated to myself -- in the manner of Zippy the Pinhead, who routinely manufactures meaningless mantras out of phrases like "Quilted Crystal Jelly Jars" or "Diflucan Fluconazole". But, even though I am a daily -- albeit frequently puzzled -- reader of the comic strip, I figured there had to be more.

When we got home I looked in my online dictionary:

fungible (adjective) (of goods contracted for without an individual specimen being specified) able to replace or be replaced by another identical item; mutually interchangeable : money is fungible -- money that is raised for one purpose can easily be used for another.

shallop (noun) chiefly historical: a light sailboat used mainly for coastal fishing or as a tender; a large heavy boat with one or more masts and carrying fore-and-aft or lug sails and sometimes equipped with guns.

Two words with nothing in common other than their persistent presence in my thoughts -- where I feared they would stay, like an earworm, until I found a better use for them.

The number of syllables is right -- perhaps a haiku was possible.

Fungible shallop --
Olden words but new to me,
Senseless consonance.

Or not.

Lately I have become critical of television programs that seem to be nothing more than a twenty-minute story dragged out for an hour. Sometimes you just cannot force things to be more than what they are.

It's really kind of scary when having a "Zippy Moment" turns out to be the most sensible thing to do.

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