Come Out With Your Hands Up!

Uncomfortably Numb
The Interactive Newsletter You Never Asked For

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Come Out With Your Hands Up!
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Surrounded? Look at your surroundings and say, “Wait a minute. If I am surrounded by my surroundings, what does that mean? And what do those words actually mean?”
—UnNumb / Issue One (take two)

This story is like a wild animal struggling to remain free and unfettered. The harder I try to lasso and corral it, the more fiercely it fights me. (Or is it fighting to help me see it another way?) This time I’ll try and make it as clear as possible before spiraling outward to find more subtle definitions for our situation:

He who does not bellow the truth when he knows the truth makes himself the accomplice of liars and forgers.
—Charles Péguy / Basic Verities
sur•round 1. To extend on all sides of simultaneously; encircle; ring. 2. To enclose or confine on all sides so as to bar escape or outside communication.

Did you get that? If not, I’ll try again:

If you do not specify and confront real issues, what you say will surely obscure them. If you do not alarm anyone morally, you yourself remain morally asleep. If you do not embody controversy, what you say will be an acceptance of the drift of the coming human hell.
—C. Wright Mills / Contribution, The Nation, April 14,1962

sur•round 1. To extend on all sides of simultaneously; encircle; ring. 2. To enclose or confine on all sides so as to bar escape or outside communication.

Up to a point, I know where this’ll lead. I’ll try to engage the Semantic Scanner in my imagination to trace the layers of this word/concept/metaphor and see if I can fight the distractions arduously enough to uncover any new understanding of our predicament. As INXS sings:

Words as weapons / Sharper than knives.

Listen again:

sur•round•ings The external circumstances, conditions, and objects that affect the existence and development of something; environment.

en•vi•ron•ment 1. Something that surrounds; surroundings. 2. The total of circumstances surrounding an organism or group of organisms, specifically: a. The combination of external or extrinsic physical conditions that affect and influence the growth and development of organisms. b. The complex of social and cultural conditions affecting the nature of an individual or community.

To surround/the surroundings/our environment: Garden of Eden or extrinsic enclosure? Is anyone else in here?

Edgar! How’s it goin’ Mr. Poe?

All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream.

Get with the program, big Ed. We already covered that stuck-in-a-dream scene. You dig? Oh yeah, that’s right… you dig.

Whoever controls the language, the images, controls the race.
—Allen Ginsberg / Contribution, The New Yorker, August 24, 1968

Runners take your marks. Ready… Set… Go:

en•vi•ron To encircle; surround. […en-, in + viron, circle, from virer, to turn, VEER.]

veer(1) 1. To turn aside from a course, direction or purpose; swerve; shift… 3. Nautical. To change the direction of a ship by turning away from the direction of the wind; wear ship. [… perhaps variant (influenced by Latin vibrare, VIBRATE) of Latin gyrare, GYRATE.]

veer(2) Nautical. To let out or release (an anchor chain or line, for example). [ … see per-1 in Appendix.]

Do you see in how many directions these trails begin to veer? I guess the real question is: Will all these new directions eventually converge with our story-line?

I’d never paid much heed to that second veer before. Along with the third definition of the first veer, it makes me think of row, row, rowing my boat…

per-1 is the root for a great many words and concepts, including these:

“to lose one’s hold,” forget (see ghend-) … Avestan pairi, around: PARADISE … prefix denoting destruction, pejoration, exclusion, or completion: FOR- … Old Church Slavonic pramu, boat (“a going forward,” “passage”) … “isolated from others” … Other derivatives are grouped under per-2, per-3, per-4, per-5, per-6, per-7, and pere-.

Some of these twisting paths seem to reveal fresh aspects that whet my imagination. The other roots (listed above) include these words/concepts:

“that which pierces through” …passage, journey… feather, wing… SUPPORT, TRANSPORT… To grant, allot… Latin Parcae, the Fates (who assign one’s destiny)… To try, risk… Old English fær, danger, sudden calamity: FEAR… to try, learn by trying: EXPERIENCE, EXPERIMENT… “to hand over,” “distribute” …go-between, negotiator: INTERPRET… To get, allot (reciprocally, to get in return).

Amazing! These secondary roots include references to thirteen other root words. I haven’t followed up all these leads, yet. It took me over two hours to write the last few paragraphs. Despite my pledge “to make this as clear as possible before spiraling outward,” I certainly veered off course quickly.

Let’s see if I can expand upon a few of the highlights. Refer to the last page to try and make sense of this.

Firstly, there’s that reference to ghend-:

(…fer-, prefix denoting rejection; see per-1), “to lose one’s hold,” forget, in Old English forgietan, to forget… Middle English gessen, to guess… Latin prehendere, to get hold of, seize, grasp… PRISON… SURPRISE…

A•ves•tan The eastern dialect of Old Iranian, in which the Avesta was written, which is the oldest attested group in the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European. Also formerly called “Zend.”

A•ves•ta The sacred writings of the ancient Persians. [Middle Persian apastak, (of obscure origin), text.]

So far we have references to forgetting and Paradise. (And before I jump to the next word, I notice that the word above Avesta is another of those wer-3 words: avert To turn away.)

for-. Indicates: 1. Exhaustion; for example, forspent. (Archaic. Worn out with exertion; exhausted.) 2. Completely; for example, forgather. (…to have a chance encounter; meet by accident…) [In Old English compounds for- indicates: 1. Incorrectly or wrongly, as in forswear. (—tr. 1. To renounce or forsake unalterably. 2. To disavow or repudiate unalterably. 3. To perjure. —intr. To swear falsely; commit perjury.) 2. Destruction, as in, fordo. (Archaic. 1. To kill. 2. To bring to ruin. 3. To exhaust utterly.) 3. Prohibition, as in forfend. (1. To keep or ward off; avert. 2. Archaic. To forbid. 3. To defend or protect.)]

Man, tracing those trails was exhausting … and depressing. If the last paragraph on the preceding page didn’t lay out some blatantly obvious hints at our chances and methods for achieving success, I might have wondered if I managed to dig-up an unhappy ending for our story. (Debi Sekerak informed me that one of my recent dreams meant I was about to learn a secret I didn’t want to know. ‘Guess this wasn’t it.)

Besides, I don’t believe in unhappy endings. They’re boring.

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<<< We’ve Got You Surrounded | A War of Words >>>

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