the password is MELANCHOLY

by santoki

“What’s the word I’m looking for?”

Some might say a picture is worth a thousand words. Perhaps, but try finding a single word with the same exchange rate. For all things, there is a perfect word. It is the one that captures a moment, a description, a feeling, in that oh so elegant way. It is the one word that makes your companion sigh, “exactly.”

It’s my little game in life to find those lovely brass tacks. I love having the right word at the right moment. It isn’t about being a walking dictionary. It’s more like being a walking thesaurus. It’s being able to distill time down to its purest form without sacrificing meaning. In truth, it’s better fun than quite a few things.

Inconceivable.Then again, there are times when I am completely off. By off, I don’t mean those senior moments when words escape me. Who cares about those? A good night’s sleep, a shot of caffeine, and I am right as rain. By off, I am not talking about when I used dearth instead of abundance. Obviously, I had no idea what the word meant, nor did I realize the complete irony of my error. No, my dear friends. I am talking about those moments when I utter a word that would only draw the unbelievably accurate pronouncement: “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

You see, in all of the time I had been using the word “melancholy,” I had thought that it meant something slightly different. My definition had a bit of romance, a bit of hope, a bit of something else. Rather, I find it to be a bummer of a word, with a kind of gross etymology:

(n.) 1. Sadness or depression of the spirits; gloom. 2. Pensive reflection or contemplation. (adj.) 1. Affected with or marked by depression of the spirits; sad. 2. Tending to promote sadness or gloom. 3. Pensive; thoughtful. [1]

(adj.) 1. Characterized by or causing or expressing sadness; “growing more melancholy every hour”; “her melancholic smile”; “we acquainted him with the melancholy truth” 2. Grave or even gloomy in character; “solemn and mournful music”; “a suit of somber black”; “a somber mood” (n.)1. A feeling of thoughtful sadness 2. A constitutional tendency to be gloomy and depressed 3. A humor that was once believed to be secreted by the kidneys or spleen and to cause sadness and melancholy. [2]

Etymology: c.1303, “condition characterized by sullenness, gloom, irritability,” from O.Fr. melancholie, from L.L. melancholia, from Gk. melankholia “sadness,” lit. “black bile,” from melas (gen. melanos) “black” (see melanin) + khole “bile” (see Chloe). Medieval physiology attributed depression to excess of “black bile,” a secretion of the spleen and one of the body’s four “humors.” Adj. sense of “sullen, gloomy” is from 1526; sense of “deplorable” (of a fact or state of things) is from 1710. [3]

While not a glaring misstep, it’s enough to kill the romance of the word. In truth, I was probably looking for either bittersweet, or perhaps wistful, and not the humor brought about by the excess secretion of black bile.

As I bang my head with the Roget’s, so continues my quest for the perfect word.



[1] “melancholy.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 23 Jun. 2007.

[2] “melancholy.” Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 23 Jun. 2007.

[3] “melancholy.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 23 Jun. 2007.