179: “Issik” (Becky Chambers)

                “She’s a bit…oh, stars, there isn’t a good word for it in Klip. Issik. You know that one? […] Literally means ‘egg soft.’ Like a hatchling’s skin, when it first comes out of the shell.”
                “So…inexperienced?”
                […] “Yes, but not quite. It implies that you’ll toughen up in time.”
                -Becky Chambers, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet

                Last semester I gave my students an assignment: find something that needs a word but doesn’t have one, and make one up. Looking back, the one that sticks in my head is “pedserilus,” a low-level frustration that stays with you because you don’t stop to deal with it–like a rock in your shoe. My student put that together by googling the latin for foot, misery, and small, and he liked his word so much that he snapped it to some of his friends. ‘Snapped’ means sent via snapchat, for those who, like me, didn’t know that, all of which goes to show how we create the new words we need, and then climb through our experience using the handholds these words give us.
                I think we need more words that are about becoming instead of being. Issik isn’t just something you are now: it marks part of a transformation, a pattern of growth. I can’t think of almost anything that is truly static, and yet most of my words say is, not change. I think we should celebrate the undecided as well as the developed, the inchoate as well as the collected. I think we should celebrate the young and the soft, the fresh from the egg, as well as the old and the–well, come to think of it, I don’t have a word for “old and worn” that also implies the beauty and grace of the aging and acting that has caused that wear. Perhaps Becky Chambers will give me that one, too, as I keep reading. If not I hope someone else will. It’s a word I’d like to have. You know–like your grandmother’s hands.
                Until then, I’m not going to confuse issik with weak, or with incapable. I suppose something that wasn’t soft might have a hard time climbing out from the egg into a new world.

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