Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Velleity


If you read last night's post, you know already that tonight's post is about marbly. It so happens that I wouldn't have selected marbly without having passed velleity at the end of the summer. That's when I leafed through the New Yorker and marveled at the lushness and clarity of a book review about a "biography" of the novel The Portrait of a Lady, and returned several times to this sentence:

How does one hope to pay homage to such complications: to all those hops and holes in the text, those worrisome velleities? 

It sent me to the OED to look up velleity ("The fact or quality of merely willing, wishing, or desiring, without any effort or advance towards action or realization.") and then got me thinking about how seldom I pass this word. I really like passing words that are rare and yet not obsolete. 

However: I didn't really like the word. I like its meaning, but as far as ear and eye sense go: No.

Marbly, by contrast, is already in the finalist's circle for this year. It's handsome and stands out in its context, in Nick Paumgarten's Talk of the Town piece, "Less Europe," in the October 22, 2012 issue of the New Yorker:

He has a smoker's marbly laugh and tawny skin, and, as he credibly claims, "relatively hollow legs," into which, at the reception, he poured a fair amount of gin.

The cliché about smoker's laugh is that it's throatycroakyhoarse. Full of oas. Sandpapery. There's the idea of congestion--whether sexy or no--and a furring, a roughness, on the audio output. And so marbly wins on contrast points. Coolness, stillness, smoothness? No . . . and yet: it fits. 

I think of a smoker, and the time-worn grooves of a smoker's habit, and a smoker's fidelity to her or his tobacco, and the word makes meaning.

Mostly, though, I like the way it makes its unexpected impression. 


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