Thursday, February 21, 2013


by Pa Rock

Years ago I took a class called Science Fiction Literature at the West Plains campus of Southwest Missouri State University.  One of the books that we read that semester was The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.  The instructor, John Mayfield, was an ardent admirer of Bradbury's writing, and described the author as crafting "luscious" prose.   I liked the book, thought the word choices were interesting and the descriptions unique, but never quite got to the point where I felt the author's pen was oozing lusciousness.

That was twenty-five years ago.

Recently I began one of the late author's stranger and more entertaining novels, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and while luscious does not feel like the right adjective to describe his prose, I am finding his phrasing, descriptions, and word choices to be nothing less than amazing.   His writing is so precise and clever that I sometimes have to stop and reread a paragraph just to make sure that I understood everything that he was trying to convey.

But this is not a review of Something Wicked This Way Comes, the story of two young adolescent boys and the impact that the late-night arrival of a carnival in their community has on their lives.  It is, rather, a commentary on a word that I came across last night while enjoying the novel.  That word was "criminently."

It is an old word, one that is not heard in everyday conversation, but when I was a youngster I strongly associated the word "criminently" with my mother who used it in all manner of situations.  It was a declaration, "Criminently, who let the cat in!"  The word was also occasionally substituted for a mild curse.  I had no idea what it meant, other than Mom was unhappy about something.  (Years later while thinking about her use of the word, I decided that it was probably a shortened version of "crime in Italy," though I had no idea what my mother's connection to, or interest in, the Mafia was!)  I didn't even have a clue as to how it was spelled.

But last night there it was - in print - and used by a formidable author.  This morning I started snooping around the Internet searching for the definition and history of the word.  It appears to be declarative, as accurately practiced by my mother, and some sources believe that it comes from the word "criminy" which is somehow based in the word "Christ."  I also learned that "criminently" was used in the Disney cartoon film, Robin Hood.

"Criminently" is colorful and very Bradbury, though not the least bit luscious.  I intend to place it in my verbal spice rack and occasionally sprinkle it into conversation - a bit of a tribute to Mom.

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