There are certain words and phrases to which I have an aversion, do you have some as well? Pustule, fistula.
Ligature—which seems like it wants to be “signature” only it’s sneaking around with a rope. I don’t like squirt. Or stubby.
I don’t like ladies, and even worse, gals—as in, “Are you gals ready to order?” I’m fascinated by the utterly bizarre phrase, “Want to come with?” I can’t stop waiting for the question to be properly finished, as in, “Want to come with us, or me?” Same goes for the equally bizarre, “I graduated college,” as if I graduated “from college” is just too much effort.
I don’t like onboarding –corporate talk for bringing in a new employee. And I don’t want to “circle back” to a topic or worse, “drill down.”
And there are all the words that we get wrong—like song lyrics or like the time I was at a dinner party and the conversation turned to those rogue cells that roam our bodies generating cancer on a whim and I said with all sincerity that I too, was changing my diet to put the brakes on those “free-wheeling radicals.” I was both puzzled and embarrassed when everyone started laughing. Was it that their dangerous cells were simply on the move while mine were on the move with attitude?
And the time I told my youngest daughter that I loved a dress I’d seen at “Free the People,” a place where she shopped. (Look! Emily! We have something in common!) When in fact the store is simply, “Free People,” which sort of means the goal of my store was achieved by her store.
My niece has been driving for Door Dash to earn a little extra cash and one night she got an order from a customer named Mikayla. When my niece arrived with the food, as is her habit, she texted the customer to let her know the order was on site. But somehow the voice-to-text changed, “Hi! Mikayla! I’m right outside with your food,” to “Hi! I’m a killer! I’m right outside with your food.”
And my sister, who was checking on her daughter’s house while she was on vacation, discovered upon entering that the entire place had become infested with fleas. Fleas everywhere, jumping, biting, riding the nearest human leg to freedom. My sister texted her daughter, “I checked the house, and everything is fine except you’ve got a massive flea infestation. I can’t think of anything to do except go back in and bomb it.”
Only the text read, “I checked the house, and everything is fine except you’ve got massive flea infestation. I can’t think of anything to do except go back in and vomit.”
There are words I love: shimmer, radiant, gravity, glory.
And one I don’t use enough, sorry. Better: I am sorry. Better still: I am truly sorry.
I like lightspeed.
And better, Godspeed, which I find perplexingly moving. Help me figure this out.
Godspeed is Middle English and has been around at least since the 14th century. “Speed” here is not about being swift but about a wish for another’s prosperity or success. What you are really saying is, “May God prosper you.” Similar words in French (adieu) and Spanish (adios) mean, “I commend you to God.” It’s as if God is a gift we try to give each other on parting. I can’t come with you so may God go in my stead. Even “goodbye” is a contraction of “God be with ye.”
In 1962, as the astronaut John Glenn blasted into space on Friendship 7, the first American to achieve orbital flight around this fragile blue jewel, a disembodied voice from mission control whispered, “Godspeed, John Glenn,” and a nation held its breath. The anonymous engineer was offering an ancient expression of goodwill traditionally made at the start of a journey or a daring endeavor. To orbit our planet, the first step towards exploring the stars, was both. The sentiment seemed fitting 54 years later when an admiring nation learned our first astronaut had died.
Godspeed, John Glenn. We commend you to God.
I used to think this sounded presumptuous. How do I know what God, if any, you believe in? And “commend” means to praise, to commit, to mention. So, doesn’t it sound a bit pompous? Like, I’m on speaking terms with God, so I’m putting in a good word for you?
So why does it get to me every time?
It’s because Godspeed is not a wish; it’s a prayer. It’s a request of the divine that you face no daring endeavor unaided–which is the purpose and point of these stories–that you feel companioned and witnessed, that you know, just for a minute, you are not on the journey alone.
Godspeed, fellow travelers. May God prosper you today. May God be with you always.
Laura J. Oliver is an award-winning developmental book editor and writing coach, who has taught writing at the University of Maryland and St. John’s College. She is the author of The Story Within (Penguin Random House). Co-creator of The Writing Intensive at St. John’s College, she is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Fiction, an Anne Arundel County Arts Council Literary Arts Award winner, a two-time Glimmer Train Short Fiction finalist, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her website can be found here.r