Over the course of writing sermons for nearly thirty-five years, and now writing books, I have developed a certain love affair with words. I have learned to see everything as material—especially language. And this makes good sense. As one put it, “The more verbal, crafted, imaginative, reasoned, and deep—the more people will listen and read.”
Some of my favorite writers are wordsmiths who fashion their thoughts such that I slow to enjoy their craft. The worthiest books are those you do not want to put down. They compel you onwards, and yet, at the same time, you find yourself braking, not wanting to come to the end. Their authors have selected words like an artist selects one’s colors. There is both subject and beauty. Words are the building blocks of ideas, and the best words often reflect the greatest ideas.
Over time, I have collected words and set them on the shelf for future use. Words like narcoleptic, excrementous, and gobsmacked. Yes, I know it can be a sin to use long words like these, but as Stephen King warns, it is a cardinal sin to use the wrong word. Is there a better word than “sycophants” to describe people who mindlessly follow leaders, especially those who are asinine? (yes, another appropriate word)
And then there is a new word I discovered today, one that, like a tattoo, won’t go away any time soon. (I must sound like an agent for Merriam-Webster Unabridged). I found it reading a column by Maureen Dowd, whose politics you may not like, but her sardonic and humorous style draws one in. She writes today about people who keep others trapped in the stranglehold of their cloistered, superannuated leadership.
Superannuated? Unsure of its meaning? So was I. Maybe it has been there all along, deep in other readings, but the word never registered, until now. (Is it my age?) Here are some hints of its gist: Certain political leaders. A dismembered DC-10 I recently saw parked in a field off a nearby runway. Our aging dog Sherlock, who seems to prefer sleeping to anything else (but food). A 2012 Portland Metro Phonebook I found when recently clearing a shelf. Any phonebook for that matter. A pastor who refuses to retire.
Here is a straight on definition: “Someone, something incapacitated or disqualified for active duty by advanced age, or older than the typical member of a specified group.”
Why am I enchanted with this word? I’m waaaay too young to identify with it. Maybe this is you. Probably not. And if so, who wants to admit of this? Like the article I recently read about Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who is now 74, he intends to keep playing. He still wakes in the night with a couple of notes in his head, and he has to get out of bed to figure it out. Like aging rock star, Paul McCartney, another genius who still “scoops tunes of the air with his hands.”
Superannuated will have to stay on the shelf with other words for a while longer. There is still too much waking in the night.