Process-eez. The word haunts me, only it’s not a word. Not where I come from. But a word doesn’t have to be a real word to be worthy of loathing. It can be the sound the word makes as it slides over the palate, or merely the image it invokes. Me, I’ve always been sensitive to texture. With food it’s not so much the taste that turns me off, but how it feels on my tongue (not to mention whether I suddenly realize that I’m eating, which is another horrifying topic). Sounds can hold terrifying power as well: the sound of an old man swallowing his apple sauce, or the crinkle of napkins, or the dull chalky drag of teeth across drywall. And what are words but choreographed sound?
Feasible. Ointment. Nugget. Treat. Nutriment. Suckle. Moist.
Words have the power to make us cringe because of the particular ways they tinkle through synapses. “Moist”–the single most feared word in the English language–is as cloying as treacle, with snaking feelers that wend their way betwixt the cerebral lobes, and then tie themselves tight as a tourniquet. And as you can see, most of the words used to describe “moist” are nearly as abhorrent as their host.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we spend a great deal of time avoiding the words we hate, whether by keeping a close eye on the company we keep or by the unceremonious slapping of palms to ears. There are occasions however where we find ourselves in situations that demand that we just sit there and take it like the weakling kid with the permanent limp, and usually it’s at the office.
Our company ingested another company a while back, and its staff came aboard as foreigners. Friendly they were, to be sure, but they had their own way of doing things that brought on a clash of microcultures, detectable only by myself. That they contaminated our meetings with their particular meeting rituals was obvious. But far more sinister was the way they introduced to our lexicon all manner of foreign words, rife with long, drawn-out vowels and extra syllables. Indeed, the fact that my otherwise reliable comrades were oblivious to this was a major point of concern.
“Processees.” If there was a totem word to which the newcomers all supplicated it was this. The bastard plural of the word “process” combined with… What? I don’t know. Facilities? Diocese? Herpes? Menses? They used the word far too often though, often going way out of their way just to savor the extra long EES festering there at the ass end of the word. “We’ll need to adjust the production schedule to account for new development processeeeez.” Hercules, manatees, bees knees.
So imagine my horror when the word began to propagate like a virus, sometimes right before my eyes. My compatriots fell like old trees before the sheer will of this alien minority–they with their precious processees–and would abandon their own pronunciation in the middle of the meeting. In fact I once witnessed the pronunciation switch in mid sentence, with a “processes” to the fore, and a “processees” aft. I was careful to avoid the word altogether, because if they control your words then aren’t they, in a way, touching your brain? Licking it? Lap lap lapping at your melon…?
By now just about everyone has given over to the new way of speaking, but as much as I’ve always considered myself a progressive futurist, I will never utter that word unknowingly. Incidentally, this is, in fact, how the world evolves away from us. It’s inevitable; as cool and as current as we think we’ll always be, at some point we’ll see an innovation for what it really is: a corruption, a degradation, a devolution. And we’ll dig in our heels in, and we’ll ossify, and the young moist ones will find our resentment amusing, and then we’ll be forgotten altogether.
I’m thinking these very thoughts as they call on me at the meeting, and I’m caught off guard, and yanked back into the present with something new: a secret acid determination. I prepare a response, readying my fingers for the devastating “air quotes.”