I confess to no small amount of vanity about my intellect. It is a thing for which I was roundly and repeatedly praised in my childhood and adolescence, and it is something I had thought to use to make my way in the world as an adult. Even now, when they matters a damned sight less than I had thought they would or that one or two of my erstwhile careers would have made them, my brains remain a point of pride for me, as does the cluster of letters at the end of my name that I flatter myself my smarts got for me and that serve as proof of the same.
As part of flexing that intellect, I do a fair bit of writing, as should be obvious. Some of that writing, as I’ve demonstrated here and in other places, takes the form of poetry (of admittedly varying quality). In that, I am often lewd or outright vulgar, to be sure, but I also do not seldom play with fancy words for the sake of delighting in them. It’s perhaps a bad habit carried over from more formal academic writing and growing up as a nerd who spent much of his time with his nose in a book. (Too much, I’ve been told; the problem was really “not enough on other things.”) There is something useful in verse in using one word that will do for five, even if it sends a person to a dictionary now and again.
In my arrogance about such things, I accepted a challenge that was not given to compose a poem involving a word for the process of evolving towards a crab-like form. Without bothering to check up on a word with which I was unfamiliar, I hammered out a brief bit of free verse, an amended version of which is
Enduring without youth
But do not follow Tithonus too closely
Opting rather to snap and scuttle
Than chirp their hopping evening tunes
Carcinization overtaking them
As they drag too much of the rest sideways with them
Of course, that I note it is an “amended” version should be something of a giveaway. I didn’t have it right the first time I let others see it. And I was informed of that–politely and kindly, yes, but no such notice is an easy one to receive, and I found myself hurting from the shame of having erred in such a way.
It has been a few days since it happened as I write this, and the pain has eased, even if I can feel my face flushing red from the recollection. I take the lesson that I need to check things before I move ahead in such ways. And I recall something from my teaching days: when I would discuss sourcing with my students, I would note to them that there is never 100% certainty in a scholarly source, explaining by analogy to sports figures. Whoever the greatest basketball player may be or have been, s/he missed a damned lot of shots; whoever the greatest baseball player may be or have been, s/he struck out an awful lot. I am far from the greatest–even I am not so arrogant as to think otherwise–so it follows that I will miss far more often.
It’s not a reason not to play, though.