Excerpt

Once upon a time there was the word and the word was neither good nor bad. It was just an extraordinary coincidence. At first it could do little more than grunt to get its message across. But then it mastered the physiology of its host’s vocal tract, and it started to produce more sophisticated sounds, which signified more sophisticated things, and conversations evolved, in which people excitedly exchanged words, as a means of articulating their desires, so that they heartily agreed, or disagreed, depending on the time of day, and the light, and how sated their appetites were.

And the word did multiply and spread further, until a veritable world of words evolved, full of tempting fruit, and bustling temples, and crucifix-worshipping disciples, and spoons, and sandals, and moons, and Vandals, and cause begat effect, and pricks grew erect, and tit inspired tat, and chit-chat, and all that happened, in its way, there is abundant proof.

But the word did not stop there, no, it just kept on conceiving more words, to dress the world up in, and make it decent, so that haplessness fleeced hopelessness, and mystery misery, and moodiness madness, and the word built ships, and bridges and carts to get about, and propagate itself, and although it was often bellicose, on the battlefield or after a few tankards of mead, and fraught with tension, in the bedroom or at table, it soon grew illuminated, in the light of new discoveries, which it had pioneered, thanks to apples falling right on cue, and oh, the music, the books, the paintings, the philosophizing, the moralizing, they were heady days, especially for certain kings, and….

….at long last a home was built for it, called a dictionary, which told a grand story, from the antecedents of “A” to the zenith of “Z”, two geometrically sturdy letters, to bookend history, from Adam to Zeus, or from Madam to Moose, I’m sorry, about this habit of mine, of resorting to rhyme, it’s just a tick of my discordant mind, but, where was I, ah yes, the dictionary, now there was a book, to rival The Book, although its etymologies were a little suspect to begin with, but that soon changed, everything soon changed, everything was always changing, that was the nature of the word, that restless malcontent, that mischievous little imp, and it soon had the world at it again….

It began to be exposed, in a manner of speaking, as a figure of speech, for what it was, and for what it wasn’t, thanks to men with big bushy beards and well-stocked libraries and a fatal predisposition towards truth, yes, those clever men, they were hot on its tail, or its trail, or whatever you call it, and it was heady days all over again, with ambitious manifestos, and pithy sloganeering, because the word had been cruelly exploiting women, children and men for too long, and had created a frightening new world, which no one seemed in control of any more, although science was on its case, and brilliant but melancholy detectives began employing deductive reasoning to try and figure it out while sucking on a pipe, and it was graphically explained in a mind-boggling number of ways, and dissected almost to death, but even when it was spliced into atoms and subatomic particles, it still wouldn’t rest, no, it just got dressed up in neat uniforms and went on a murderous rampage, but then it was bombed and beaten and beleaguered into submission, for a little while, and finally it seemed to be under control, and even content, at long last, except that it wasn’t, for the word wanted the whole world, ultimately, a small corner of Europe, or a big chunk of America just wasn’t enough for it to be happy with, despite its relatively comfortable life, and the fact that history was chugging along at a nice pace, and continually begetting new words, some of which were trailblazingly avant-garde, and groundbreakingly abstruse, and there was a generous social welfare program that assured it for the first time of a reasonable degree of protection against poverty, illiteracy and illness, or from the cradle to the grave, as one famous government slogan put it.

No, it just wasn’t enough for that ungrateful glutton, and so after a little time had passed, and people had forgotten the monumental misery and madness of recent years, and brought down the concrete walls that abstractly divided it, it cleverly went global, which would do wonders for it, and put it squarely back at the heart of the world, which was where it felt it belonged.

It was an inspired coup. In just a few short years the word recaptured most of its lost ground. Every country in every continent was back on its agenda. International organizations enshrined it in law and assured it safe passage through international trade agreements, global markets, telecommunications and social media. Multinational companies gave it a universally recognizable image in which it looked tantalisingly beautiful and happy. And it discreetly did away with the crude and outmoded political dichotomies of left and right, which helped its cause no end.

It flourished like never before in the ensuing chaos. Now it had the full weight of history on its side. It had the majority of people’s minds ensnared in its way of thinking. Science created an elaborate language to advance its cause in every conceivable way, while philosophy inadvertently supported it at every step. Religion, meanwhile, faithfully covered its rear. All in all, it had finally created a story that few people could resist. It was imperfect, no one would deny it, and there was infinite room for improvement of one kind or another, but here was a story that could potentially go on for ever and ever, no matter how many ways it was told, or how convincingly it was refuted. As the world fell apart, for the word invariably tended towards extremes, and glaciers melted, and the seas started rising, and vast forests disappeared, and wondrous species vanished, and countries competed for increasingly rare natural resources, and one absurdity trumped another, the word revelled in its unprecedented success. It was everywhere. It was rampant. It was unstoppable.

 

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