Thursday, June 20, 2013

On the psychiatrist's couch

      "I love books, Doctor Lexicon," I say. "Hardcover, softcover, classic, trashy. Every kind of book. Even e-books."
      He nods sympathetically and then urges me to continue.
      "When I was young, I wanted to be a biblipole. I'd scour garage sales hoping to discover an original Little Women. That came in two volumes, you know. Or a first edition Whitman." I sigh. "I was so naive."
      "How so?" he asks in his high-pitched, born-in-Austria voice.
      My face floods with shame. My secret, the reason I've come to him, is horrific.
     "I love all books," I repeat. "And books are made up of words."

       I stop on the precipice of my confession, search his sunglasses until I see a glint of reassurance, and  
abandon my verbal defenses. "I should love all words and I don't."
      He gasps. His cheeks flap like they've taken the entire windblast of a slammed-shut Gutenberg Bible. Consummate professional, he quickly reasserts his composure. "Which words?"
     "Pert and frisson," I whisper. "It happened when I started reading romances."
      He opens a dictionary. "Pert: Impudent; a pert remark. High-spirited, as in lively. Jaunty, like a ponytail."
      "Doctor, does pert mean turned up? Can can a nose be pert? A chin high-spirited? Breasts impudent?"
      "The meanings of words evolve over time. Let's move on to frisson. It comes from Latin frgre, meaning to be cold. Old French changed it to fricons, a trembling. An almost pleasurable sensation of fright or shock. A quiver, shudder, tingle, chill, thrill, shiver."
      "Can it be used in love scenes?"
      He smiles. "Close your eyes. Imagine you are at a party and the man you secretly love walks in. His eyes search the room until they land on you. He starts toward you, wanting to talk to you. You shiver with anticipation, with excitement. That's frisson."
      My mind relaxes, and I know I will finally be able to sleep again. I understand frisson.
      And pert implies sass mixed with beguile.

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