Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Quest to Find the Meaning of a Word

At the ominous hour of 11:11am yesterday morning, Gavin Gimbler’s English professor, Dr. Johnson, sowed the seeds of chaos in the usually serene life of the 20 year-old student. The rotund, cheerful professor, a member of faculty at the University of Alberta since 1978, said,

“The title of the Thomas Pynchon quarterly, Pynchon Notes, has always struck me as strangely prosaic.”

From that moment on, young Gimbler’s day was plunged into doubt and, at times, despair. What on earth was the meaning of this odd and almost foreign-sounding word, “prosaic”? It sort of rhymed with “mosaic," but while everyone and his dog knows what mosaic means, what on earth could its bizarre doppelganger signify?

Gimbler ceased to have any thoughts of Pynchon. It was as if a stick had become stuck in the spokes of his brain. All through the lunch hour, as his friends discussed inebriation, Survivor, and syphilis, Gimbler remained silent.

Finally, the torment of ignorance became too much for him to bear.

“Do any of you know what prosaic means?” Gimbler asked.

His friends stared at him blankly. For almost a minute, none of them said a word.

Finally, the conversation resumed. “So anyway, as I was saying, this chick with the rash…”

It was as if Gimbler had said nothing at all. He felt that he’d committed something of a social faux pas. He resolved to never again make a fool of himself with his big mouth – at least not in front of his friends.

At 13:09, Gimbler realized he had already missed the first nine minutes of his afternoon economics class. He decided to skip the remainder and instead journey down Whyte Avenue to consult the visiting Buddhist scholar, Lama Olé Nydahl, about the meaning of the strange new word in his life.

“Please Lama Olé,” said Gimbler. “Can you enlighten me on the meaning of the word prosaic?”

The Danish lama smiled and then sighed.

“Sadly I cannot,” he replied. “English is not my first language. There is, however, a Danish word that means ‘mind orgasm,’ and that is what Buddhism at essence is, young man. It is a mind orgasm.”

“I’ll remember that,” said Gimbler.

He thanked the lama for his wisdom and then boarded a bus to Calgary to visit the premier of Alberta, Ralph Klein, at his modest suburban home.

“Please Mr. Klein, as the most powerful man in this province, at least for the next eleven days, can you educate me on what prosaic means?”

Mr. Klein put down his job offer from the nuclear consortium, Safe, Silent & Sexy Inc., and pondered the question.

“Young man, where did you hear this word uttered?”

“At the University of Alberta,” replied Gimbler.

“Well then, in my opinion, it’s safe to assume that it’s not really relevant to anything,” Klein said. “Don’t worry about it. Get out there and make some money, kid! Don’t you know there’s an oil boom going on?”

Night was falling, and Gimbler became aware that he was unlikely to get back to Edmonton in time for dinner with the family. While he was wandering around in search of lodgings for the night, he stumbled across the Tooth Fairy preparing to deliver a shiny quarter to the home of little Stacey Gubbins.

“Excuse me, Miss Fairy,” said Gimbler. “Can you tell me what prosaic means?”

The Tooth Fairy shook her head sadly and fluttered her wings with agitation.

“I typically only encounter humans with a reading level of grade six or less,” she replied. “I can tell you what pooh means, but not, sadly, prosaic.”

“Fair enough,” said Gimbler. “All the best with Stacey Gubbins. Word on the street is she lost a molar.”

“She did indeed,” said the Tooth Fairy. “And an incisor!”

It was now very cold and dark indeed, and Gimbler feared that if he stayed any longer on the winter streets of Calgary, he would succumb to hypothermia. It was a very desperate situation. He should have packed a down-filled coat for his quest. But sadly, the warmest garment on his shivering body was a fleece sweater.

“This quest might well kill me,” he lamented to no one in particular. “And so far, it's been an utterly useless pursuit.”

“—Almost quixotic, one might say,” said a voice from the darkness.

"Wha- what was that?” Gimbler stuttered, startled.

Emerging from the shadows came the shadowy form of the Word Wizard. Unlike the Tooth Fairy, he was old and unkempt, but the lustre of his wand and his golden locks of hair were proof of his former glory.

“Who are you?” asked Gimbler.

“I am the Word Wizard,” said the Word Wizard. “I have been offering my spells for many a year, but sadly, nowadays, most people do not want them."

Gimbler felt a twinge of pity for the noble wizard.

“Well, I need one of your spells,” he said.

“You do?” said the Word Wizard.

“Indeed I do, sir. What does prosaic mean?”

Lo and behold, without hesitation, the Word Wizard conjured up the meaning of the word that had heretofore been as elusive to Gimbler as the Holy Grail was to Sir Lancelot.

"Ancient sorcery lives!" exclaimed Gimbler, incredulous.

“Observe, son, that my spells are invaluable to any contemporary man or woman of sophistication," said the Word Wizard with growing pride.

Gimbler agreed, “You are about the smartest entity, human or otherwise, that I've encountered all day."

“Share this message with your brethren," suggested the Word Wizard. "I have need of some help in marketing my particular and rather idiosyncratic skills."

"I'll keep an eye out for you," said Gimbler.

He thanked the Word Wizard, who in turn, wished him well. He then found, by complete accident, a parked car with the keys in the ignition, the motor still running, and no apparent owner in the vicinity. Feeling a little guilty, he jumped inside, and proceeded to drive away – noticing as he did so that there was enough gas to take him all the way home.

“What a stroke of good luck!” he chortled. "Now I don't have to freeze to death in the suburbs of Calgary for the sake of a word that, ironically, merely means 'commonplace and dull!'"

Sadly, Gimbler did not hear the outraged voice of the Word Wizard, who was scrambling to catch up to the car. The wizard's lanky legs were working frantically, but alas, he suddenly slipped and fell into a snowdrift.

“That’s my car, you scoundrel!" he cried out. "Stop, you crook, you criminal, you kleptomaniac, you underhanded miscreant!”