Wednesday, July 18, 2007


The first oddity is "to garnish one's wages." When I think of garnishing, "adding something" comes to mind. How did such an absurd wording come to be? Was it a euphemism? To "append a removal"? To "decorate with a defacement"? To "promote with a firing"? A salary can also be so garnished, I think.

Or is the point to diminish the force of the act with diminution? For any garnish is always a measly little olive, or sprig of parsley. One never eats it or pays it any mind: it is there to throw to the side as one gets to the (meaty) heart of the matter. Was the word "garnish" chosen for this administrative cruelty to diminish it? Like adding a stalk of celery or slivers of carrot to one's paycheck? A teeny-tiny adornment, in the form of a little-wittle deduction?

The second oddity is "butterfly." For a long time I have been sure that this word was a mutation of history. Switch the "b" and the "fl" and one has a perfect description of what this insect does: it flutters by. I have not looked into the Oxford English Dictionary for confirmation. Perhaps I do not want to be disappointed to find that this perfect little eddy in time does not actually exist.

But lately I have made peace with "butterfly." There is something poetic in the associations. I see a butterfly opening and closing its wings on a windowsill, sipping at a saucer of melting butter, bathed in buttery sunlight. There is a peacefulness in the word, a domestic warmth, to thinking of this beautiful creature naturally drawn to human kitchens. And now that butter is less used, and is no longer made at home, there is a tint of the past in the image, as if the butterfly itself signified a rustic past of Heidi-like simplicity, of a time when butterflies fluttered by one's doorstep, drawn by the scent of the butter in the churn.

Still, "fly" makes me pause. It does not fit that insect. There is dragon fly, of course. But it has clear wings at least. "Bug" makes more sense: butterbug.

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