Gimbling in the Wabe – Of Dogs and Rainy Days and Eponymous Adjectives

by Sharon Browning

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It was a rainy day at the dog park today, and not many people (or canines) were romping around the soggy grounds.  A few stalwarts, though, of course.

When the Mighty Belle and I walked in, the rain had just stopped, even though the clouds overhead were still dark and ominous.  The air was oppressively heavy.  But underlying the atmospheric weight was a freshness, a sense of nature taking advantage of the rain.  The trees were tossing in the slight wind, birds were soaring and darting, and spindly grey mushrooms had sprouted in the shadows.

There were only three other people in the park when we arrived; one “regular” with her hound, Reece, one woman who was faintly familiar with a bouncy labradoodle, and one man who was a stranger to me.  He and his elderly beagle were casually walking under the trees that covered the eastern part of the larger park.  He himself was not old; younger than me, certainly.  He was dressed in khaki canvas shorts and a well worn t-shirt, strained just a tad with his solid girth.  But when I glimpsed his face, I took a double-take.

His hair was of longish curls and somewhat shaggy; not absurdity so, just alluding to someone who didn’t fuss much with conventional grooming.  But his beard is what caught my eye:  it was full and tapered long, grayish, with two striations of white streaking along it.  Taken all together, at a glance (for staring is rude, or so my mother often told me), my first thought was, “Oh, my gosh, is that Patrick Rothfuss?”

For those who may not know, Patrick Rothfuss is the author of the acclaimed novel The Name of the Wind, as well asPatrick-rothfuss-2014-kyle-cassidy (1) The Wise Man’s Fear, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, and The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle, to name a few.  He also started and continues to spearhead the charity Worldbuilders, which has raised millions of dollars for Heifer International (a nonprofit which provides livestock, clean water, education and training for developing communities, many in the Third World).  He is a Good man, a witty and accessible man, and a wonderful author.  I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting him; he also lives fairly close to me, across the Minnesota border in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, so it’s not totally unreasonable that he might show up on a rainy Thursday morning in an inner city Minneapolis dog park.  If he has a dog.  Which I don’t think he does, but still…

Anyway, a second look confirmed that no, this was not Patrick Rothfuss.  Close, but no cigar.  Still, I thought to myself, “…he does have a Rothfussian look to him…”  And I immediately fell in love with that word:  Rothfussian.

Now, me?  I love using made up words.  Not silly mangling of words necessarily, like you see from ditsy sitcom starlets or Buzzfeed clickbait posts on social media, but let’s just say that I’m pretty free and easy with gerunding any word I feel like it (see what I did there? see?).  I have friends who have hissy fits when they see a zero derivation of a nominalization (which is when verbs are made into nouns, such as “That was an epic fail” rather than “They failed to an epic degree.”) – also known as “verbing” (HA!!! “verbing” is a neologism – nouns made into verbs – which also gets grammarians’ shorts in a twist).

I just don’t care.  Well, I take that back; I care, very deeply, but not about formality or orthodoxy.  My writing is quite casual; I’m not worried about strength of this over that, or overt propriety, or style over substance, or even plain substance.  I just want words to flow prettily.  I want my writing to be evocative rather than exacting.

Which doesn’t mean that I treat grammar or language flippantly.  “Their”, “there” and “they’re” are very important to me, and are not to be misused.  I am quite proud of being able to correctly apply “ensure”, ”insure” and “assure”, and I cringe when someone I admire uses “then” when s/he should be using “than”.  I shudder to think that the forces-that-be may someday prevail in doing away with the Oxford comma.  I may split my infinitives, but I do so consciously.  I try to meticulously ensure (! and !) that there is no confusion between my pronouns and my subjects.

But I also love long, run-on sentences, and make abundant use of semi-colons, colons, dashes, ellipses and parentheses, without apology.  (I’m sorry, Kurt Vonnegut, I do not agree that semicolons are “transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing” that merely show I have been to college, even though yes, I have been to college.  English minor, go figure.)  I enjoy anachronisms, euphemisms (and occasional dysphemisms), idioms, slang and idiosyncratic contractions.  I often employ sentence fragments, but they are quite intentional.  And I will give up two spaces between typed sentences when you pry them out of my cold, dead fingers.  To be honest, although I think Mr. Strunk and Mr. White would be fine dinner companions, I certainly ain’t gonna crawl into bed with them – not that they’d have me, anyway.

And I love Rothfussian.  It’s not that far removed from Shakespearean, is it?  Lovecraftian? Kafkaesque?  Dickensian?  Tolkienesque?  Seussical?  Sure, it doesn’t pull forth an immediate understanding.  It certainly is a far cry (or even weak mewling) from being universal.  Arguments could be made on whether it pertains to the stylistic, the physical or the metaphysical (I’m not telling!).  But I still love it, and will use it, if and when it ever is appropriate to do so… which probably will be pretty delimited outside of this Gimbling, but so what?

[I had fun spending a few idle moments thinking of other authors I know and admire whose names could become eponymous adjectives:  Careyesque (Jacqueline Carey; well, after rejecting Careyan), Hobbsian (Robin Hobbs), Gaimanesque (Neil Gaiman, although Gaimansian was intriguing), Kowalian (Mary Robinette Kowal, since Kowalic sounds just plain wrong), Miévillian (China Miéville), Leckiesian (Ann Leckie), Hurleyesque (Kameron Hurley), Kaysian (Guy Gavriel Kay), Gladstonian (Max Gladstone).  Some authors didn’t make the cut, not because they weren’t noteworthy, but because their names were just too darned common – George R. R. Martin, Tad Williams – or they just sounded weird any way I tried to work them – Cherie Priest, Marie Brennan.  My favorite, though, was Datlowvian, for Ellen Datlow, editor extraordinaire.  That one is almost as good as Rothfussian.  Almost.]

So what’s the big deal?  There isn’t one, really.  Just fun with words, both conventional and unorthodox.  And on a rainy, humid, late summer day, when even the dogs like to just sit and get soaked and watch the world go by, and you get a split second of wondering if you might have a brush with greatness, even if you don’t, then what could be better?

Pretty Rothfussian, I’d say.

~ Sharon Browning

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