Words, Colors, and OZ

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August 2, 2016 by libroshombre


Ronald Reagan was the source of “the glass is half empty or half full” line, according to the Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings. However, the Dictionary of Modern Proverbs says that in 1935 the economist Sir Josiah Stamp said the difference between optimists and pessimists is, “A pessimist looks at his glass and says it is half empty, an optimist looks at it and says it is half full. Today I’ve chosen to emulate the president and economist and eschew my recent proclivity for discussing unpopular words, like “moist” and “unctuous,” and negative words such as “plagiarism” and “kudoclasm.”

So I won’t go into Pantone 448c, AKA “opaque couche” or “the world’s ugliest color.” The pigment was the result of the Australian government’s search for the most unappealing color to use for tobacco product packaging to dissuade smokers. According to the HouseBeautiful.com article “It’s Lovingly Described as Death” by Caroline Picard, the “sewage-tinged hue” was initially called “olive green,”, but “after an urgent letter from the Australian Olive Association, they changed the nickname to “drab dark brown.”

Instead of Pantone 448c, let’s reflect on the positive side of our language, as in a wonderful letter written by Robert Pirosh in 1934. Pirosh was a young copywriter then seeking employment who sent the following to every potential employer he could think of. “Dear sir, I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straightlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-heavens, my gracious, lands-sakes words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, Elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

“I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation, and horsing around. I have just returned and still like words. May I have a few with you?” Pirosh was hired by MGM.

Pirosh’s letter is included in “Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience,” that I found at our public library. It’s chock full of amazing letters, including Beethoven’s posthumous letter to his brothers, who didn’t know of his deafness and thought he was just being grumpy, and others from Gandhi to Hitler, Groucho Marx to Woody Allen, and Jackie Robinson to President Eisenhower. It’s a big, coffetable book known in the library world as “oversized.” Libraries often place their oversized, or “OZ,” books at the end of the nonfiction bookstacks to allow the other shelves to be closer to each other and thereby maximize storage.

OZ books shouldn’t be confused with L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, but it’s worth noting that “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is among “Bruce Springsteen’s Reading List: 28 Books That Shaped His Mind and Music,” along with “Moby Dick,” “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman, and, a personal favorite, Sarah Bakewell’s “How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.”

It’s daunting to narrow the field of beloved, books down like that, but it’s an expansive, healthy exercise nonetheless. Despite the violent ugliness that seems to swallow the world at times, there are so many wonderful things to notice if we simply ponder on it for a moment. Where and when we live is pretty marvelous, historically speaking, especially when you add the availability of free and ready sources of information, inspiration, and intellectual stimulation known as public libraries.

            Why, even the embracing of ugly old Pantone 448c has caused a big drop in Australian smoking and saved countless lives. And “Beauty,” as H.G. Wells noted, “is in the heart of the beholder.”!


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