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Posted: March 23, 2012 12:00 a.m.

Gallimaufries to green grass

If you read last Sunday's Covington News, you may have seen a diatribe about this paper in the form of a letter to the editor from a man named Felton Hudson of Stone Mountain. In it, he also took a harsh swipe at my personal opinion columns, calling them "pedantic gallimaufries." More on that in a minute.

Now I don't know Mr. Hudson personally, but he has on more than one occasion over the years sent letters to the editor to this paper that have been rather critical of something I've written. I want to thank him for being such a regular reader of this paper and of my column in particular. I applaud anyone who supports the existence of newspapers, a subject near and dear to my heart. However, if someone who lives in Stone Mountain has the time to write testy rants to this small paper about a sole columnist among many this paper prints, perhaps he needs something more to do.

As a writer, I love words and I particularly love learning new ones. A story in last weekend's Wall Street Journal written by Christopher Shea reported on a team of physicists who believe they've discovered universal principles that explain the birth, life and death of words. In their paper published in a journal called "Science," the physicists estimate there are one million English words in existence, "far more than any dictionary has recorded," citing the 348,000 words that appeared in the 2002 Webster's Third New International Dictionary. They've found that the life span of words is shortening, the "death" of words, increasing and the "birth rate" of new words, slowing.

Now on to Mr. Hudson's choice of words to denigrate my columns. "Pedantic" is an adjective: "characterized by a narrow, often ostentatious concern for book learning and formal rules." OK, I'll admit to a lifelong fondness for "book learning" and "formal rules" that began with my upbringing. Education is absolutely essential to quality of life, as is lifelong learning, and rules - call them laws - are necessary to regulate how individuals interact with each other, how government interacts with us and vice versa. Where would we be without them? But ostentatious? I challenge that description. "Showy" is the synonym, and I believe I can say with some confidence that anyone who knows me personally would disagree with that suggestion.

The noun that followed pedantic - "gallimaufries" - sent me to my dictionary, and I'll thank Mr. Hudson for that. The word was a new one for me. In its singular form, it means a "jumble, hodgepodge," and synonyms are "miscellany," "potpourri," and "salmagundi." Ha, another new word! Salmagundi is either a mixture or assortment or, curiously, a chopped salad whose ingredients are laid out in rows. I willingly accept a description of my columns as miscellany or potpourri: "a combination of incongruous things." It's also a sweet-smelling concoction of dried flower petals and spices. Every home should have some.

Mr. Hudson went on to dismiss my columns as being about nothing more significant, apparently, than "why the grass is green and the sky blue." Actually, those are pretty interesting subjects. Nothing is more beautiful than a clear, blue sky, the best, in my opinion, occurring in October of each year. In our lives, don't we yearn for those blue-sky moments when everything seems clear sailing and easy, when nothing forbidding lurks on the horizon?

The sky is blue for a very good reason, not just because it's a beautiful color. It's that every color in the spectrum has a different wavelength, red having the longest and violet, the shortest. As light speeds through the atmosphere, the longer wavelengths like red, orange and yellow pass right through, but the shorter wavelengths, the blues, are absorbed by gas molecules that scatter and radiate in all directions. The preponderance of blue visible to the eyes makes the whole sky seem blue. Aren't we lucky?

That grass - including trees and shrubs - is green is also a function of light. Growing things are filled with a substance called chlorophyll that's used in the process of photosynthesis to create the sugars that plants need to fuel their growth. Chlorophyll happens to reflect the green light coming from the sun, making living plants appear green. Research has shown that green is the most relaxing and de-stressing color of all. And if you aren't sitting outside under a tree or wiggling your toes in a velvety stand of grass, looking at a computer screen that shows a picture of a green meadow has almost the same effect on calming our psyche. Might I suggest that to Mr. Hudson?


Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.

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