Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The world's most powerful word

My husband and I used to have an ongoing argument about the merits of French versus the merits of English. “Come on,” I would tell him. “English is so much more descriptive. The language of Shakespeare. There’s so much more you can say.”
“That’s because Shakespeare went around inventing words,” he’d scoff.
“But that’s exactly my point,” I’d counter. “Look how many more words English has than French.”
He pooh-poohed this. “Toothbrush, flatiron, hamstring, fairytale - it’s just because you count compound words. That’s cheating.”
“Serendipity, retch, doodle,” I parried. “Or how about silly? Your language doesn’t have a word for silly, for God’s sake.”
“But that doesn’t stop us from being silly. Or describing it. We’re simply more efficient. We do more with less. Eventually, we’ll have reduced the whole of French down to a single, extremely expressive syllable. Like bah.
My husband may actually be right about this, but he’s got the wrong syllable. If I had to bet on French boiling down to one syllable I’d bet on doux, which, might be the most versatile word I know.
This one little word can mean:
soft (in texture or in sound)
Imagine a language in which your baby’s hair, your lover’s gaze, the weather this afternoon, the pace at which you’re getting things done, the way you woke up, the breakfast you ate, the volume of the radio, your cat’s nap, and a million other things can all be described with a single word. Double it into two syllables – doudou – and it becomes your child’s security blanket, a nickname for your lover, a way to describe a cuddly person. Roll it over your tongue a few times and it fancies up into douillet, adding coziness and luxuriance to the mix.
Doux is so shy and unassuming, and yet so powerful. If the meek shall inherit the earth and language is slowly distilling itself down into a single super-syllable, let this be the one.

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