Monday, January 15, 2007
Isthmus, O my Isthmus
I love the sound of the word 'isthmus'. The marriage of those two syllables is blessed by elegance and demanding of attention. I have no idea what the sixteenth century Greeks wordsmiths were envisioning when they made up the word isthmos, but the Romans liked it enough to steal it for their own craven use, swine that they are. Admittedly, they did change one letter to throw everyone off, those clever etymologists. It actually takes a little talent to say it properly. 'Isth'… it demands that you pay attention. It’s very easy to omit the ‘s’ sound, under penalty of lisping. If you commit this sin, you might just as well go ahead and butcher the last syllable, too, and pronounce it 'ithmuth'. Perhaps then you could askth Thanty Clauth to bring you an ithmuth for Chrithmuth.
But I digress…
Evidently the Greeks understood the beauty of this word, because succeeding generations give it the singular praise of being named before any proper name which it identifies: 'the Isthmus of Panama'… 'the Isthmus of Kra'. One never hears anyone say 'the Mountains of Rocky' or 'the Lake of Tahoe'. No, isthmuses are very special, indeed.
Since the dawn of time, civilizations have immortalized their favorite words and concepts by capturing them in verse. Inspired by this knowledge, I’ve decided to craft my own memorial to the most beautiful of all words. While I’m certainly not Lord Byron, I offer my soliloquy of praise:
Isthmus, o ye strip of land so comely,
so deserving of the praise ye raise,
connector of masses and surrounded by water,
ye bastion of freedom’s holy balustrade.
Whether Panama or Darien,
Karelian or Kra,
you’re generally found somewhere else,
than Kansas or Omaha.
Vast as all the oceans,
or just a tiny speck,
you’re magnificent as all hell
o, regal Tehauntepec!
I really should stop now. I think I just felt a tear...