Thursday, March 19, 2009

On Awkwardness: (or, An Open Invitation to Create a Word)

I've recently begun to hold the opinion that it is typical of the English language to be lacking in a word that adequately captures "awkward". Certainly, there is "awkward" but this invokes a beakish sort of person with acne and a squeaky voice who manages to say the silliest things at the most inopportune moments. That certainly isn't me, because I can be quite charming when in my element, and am certainly _not_ beakish, nor do I have a squeaky voice.
It must have something to do with context, I insist!

The OED is of some help, but for being the bastion of language I hoped for more.
For instance, as an adverb, "Awkward" suggests "Upside down; hindside foremost." That is, ass-backwards. Yes, that makes some sense, and probably accounts for why I always feel like an ass once the awkward social exchange has passed. But the image suggests moving backwards, as if blind, and this, too, makes sense, for upon reflection I always wonder why on earth I didn't see how what I'd said was wholly ridiculous and deserving of contempt.
As an adjective, and regarding persons, "Awkward" denotes, "Ungraceful, ungainly in action or form; uncouth." Yes, as ungainly as someone walking about ass-first trying to describe what is before them... But also, surprisingly, "Dangerous to meddle with." This makes no sense, because I can't imagine how my bungling a perfectly ordinary social interaction is dangerous, except unless of course one thinks metaphorically, and what it endangered is the possibility that I will ever be addressed in public again?...

Yes, this has a historical horizon. The Writer appeared, as if an apparition, and upon seeing him I hadn't the faintest idea how to address him. When the exchange finally initiated I managed to babble on about a toothache for entirely too long, and then--genius I am--suggested I am an alcoholic of such proportions that 3 days of sobriety prompted a bout of delirium tremens--which in hindsight is wholly impossible, and was, as I hastily attempted to add, in all likelihood my fever breaking.
Yet, what on earth compelled me to this line of conversation, I haven't a clue. I insist, it must be a matter of context.

This makes some sense. My friend Joseph is a relative "social butterfly" whereas I am, by all measures, relatively terrible at social situations. This may come as a surprise, but I insist, again, on context: you know me in roles, always already prescribed--The Barista, the Professor, the Provocateur, the Poster-of-These-Notes, the Date, ect, ect. Within the confines of these clearly defined roles, I am completely free, and indeed, revel in the capacity to render them somewhat malleable.
But, when the roles aren't established, or when they intersect like two live wires, I am--to quote the OED: "lacking dexterity or skill in performing their part." But with no part staked out, no mask painted, ready to be adorned, I am a miserable social actor. Yes, it is about acting, and acting well--or convincingly.

And I insist: it is about context! The OED does a shoddy job of establishing this, save the brief hint quoted above about stiff acting.
What word would capture this momentary lack of symbolic context? No, the Lacanian "Real" carries too much the valence of psychosis--though I must have sounded mad, it should be admitted.
So, an open invitation to help fabricate a word that captures the feeling of not being able to perform for lack of a discernible stage and/or script.
(Any smart-ass submissions of "freedom" or "potentiality" will be automatically disqualified.)

Also: I am not wanted by the AFT for bumming cigarettes. Your crude tubes of shredded cardboard, with your vulgar filters, disgust me, and I would rather chew off my left pinky-finger than bum a smoke from you. No offense.




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