157: “Wyrd” (Mishell Baker)

                “The word ‘weird’ descends from the old English wyrd, by way of the Old Norse urðr, meaning fate.”
                […]
                “I am not inclined to elect you arbiter of normal.” -Mishell Baker, Borderline

                A fantasy/crime novel that, on its way to a stakeout, stops to talk about the etymology of “weird”? Cupid has his arrows, and this one’s for me. Here’s a word, slipping along through time and changing as it goes. As a self-respecting sleuth, how could you not follow it? What will you find if you follow along in its tracks?
                The transition Baker describes from “fate” to “strange, different, otherworldly, unusual” comes with the “weird sisters,” the German interpretation of the three Greek fates, who originally did a whole lot of weaving and later did witchy dances in Macbeth. Here’s another: the Latin word “arbiter” is used to describe a witness or judge, but it’s root, baetere, means ‘to come, go.’ An arbiter is someone who travels out to hear and decide a case. One more: ‘normal’ is from the Latin norma, meaning ‘carpenter’s square’ and therefore, more generally, the usual pattern or the rule to be followed.
                I like those three words. I like them even more together, lit by the changing lights of their history. Maybe you have to go (baetere) and see what’s really happening in order to settle a dispute or set a rule; or to put it another way, maybe the norms we set–our normals–are about the places we go, in the world, in our community, in ourselves. Maybe your rule (norma) is about the tools you’ve made for building, the patterns you’ve learned to recognize–but things don’t always fit in the right angles we hold up to the world, and there are different tools, different patterns, different paths to pick up. And the forces that govern our journey, that draw us this way and that, tying us to each other and to the world, they’re not always what we would expect. They’re wyrd.

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