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The Newcomer

Image of R. A. Allen

R. A. Allen

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This dictionary defines "rooihout"
as a South African tree on page 2624;
"aasvogel," a vulture, is on page 2—
catnip for armchair etymologists,
crankbait for obsessive logophiles.
But for sheer phonetics, a melodious
contender from globalization's onslaught
might be Russia's "novichok" (newcomer).
What a ring it has, what a sound! It peacocks
its "nova"-ness in its initial syllables, and then,
like the triumphant dismount of a Soviet gymnast,
there's the wallop of that "chok" at the end—
a cellar door of a word if ever there was one.

But it turns out that novichok is a nerve-agent WMD
whose mere existence is a crime against humanity,
designed for stealth, synthesized to paralyze,
inflicted for revenge, deployed as an extension
of political menace. So don't be charmed by
its euphony. The Nazis gave us Zyklon (cyclone) B.
And the Sirens' songs were also sweet and golden.

Rendez-vous

Image of Rendez-Vous, September 2019 issue
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