Thinking about Words: Crisp and Fragile

Perhaps inspired by David Lynch's daily weather report – which always sandwiches in the words, "I was thinking about…" between low and high temperature readings – on my walk this morning I was thinking about the word crisp. The heat went on this morning inside, signaling the definitive end of summer, and when I stepped outside, my inner monologue told me it was a crisp Autumn day. We use crisp for foods, mostly, describing the crunch of an apple or chip. A British crisp is a potato chip. Also for creases in slacks, or a starched or new shirt. Speaking crisply is sharp and precise. Where or when did we start using crisp for a cold and clear day? Do other languages do this? Crisp seems to me to be the boundary where the cold, clear air hits my warm face, right along my jaw.

Where I live, in an urban environment, where words have to keep moving, we throw language around swiftly when we speak and don't get to savor a word too long. When we read and write, though, we can dive down more deeply and explore and consider a word without time constraints. 

My American Heritage paper dictionary defines crisp as:

1. firm, but easily broken
2. pleasingly firm and fresh
3. bracing, invigorating
4. conspicuously clean or new
5. marked by clarity, conciseness, and briskness
6. having small curls, waves, or ripples
—from the Latin crispus, also Old English meaning "curly."

One word can surely take one down a poetic path. Suddenly, crisp becomes visual: curls of cold air. Perhaps it is the invigorating air, the spell of freshness that can be easily broken. So I will enjoy the fragile moments.

The word "fragile" surfaces frequently in the beautiful book I'm reading that just came out, Jack by Marilynne Robinson. I had read and loved Gilead before it (and Housekeeping way before that), and for some reason haven't read the books in between, although I will go back. Jack is intriguing, both in form and story. It starts as mostly a dialogue between a man and woman, and we must keep reading to find out how they know each other. The point of view is Jack's, and the reader is guided through his thoughts as he imagines possible futures to his actions. The main theme for him is the concept of "harmlessness." Can he move through life without harming anything or anyone? And how could that possibly work since he has already caused problems. He tries, but it is difficult for him to do anything but make the situation worse, although he has rare moments of clarity and tiny successes. We do learn early on that he is white and has trouble fitting into society and holding down and job, and that she is Black, a respectable school teacher, and this is St. Louis, and it must be the 1950s or earlier. Although I'm afraid it can't end well, the book brings up all kinds of crisp food for thought.

Today I feel guardedly optimistic.

View from my walk up the hill in Berkeley, looking at San Francisco.

P.S. If you do check out David Lynch's weather report, be sure to read the comments afterwards. This is one space where the comments actually enhance the experience and are pretty positive. Like this one where he is thinking about pencils.

addendum 11.10.20: I finished Jack and without giving any spoilers, I was satisfied with the ending.


LaceLady said…
the word "crisp"! and I love David Lynch's weather - as he says "have a great day", thanks for making this a great day!
Alisa said…
Thanks LaceLady! Yes, he makes the morning start in a reassuring and cheerful way, doesn't he? Glad to be of service.