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Vol 106 / Issue 33 - 34

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Awkwardness goes in the wrong direction I had what you might call an awk- ward encounter the other day. It happened right at my desk, with the word awkward itself. It's a word I've known all my profes- sional writing life, but just the other day, it occurred to me to wonder: Where is it going? That second syllable, -ward, is "an adverbial suffx expressing direction." The syllable comes from an ancient root meaning "to turn, to wind." When Thomas Wolfe counseled in the title of his frst novel, "Look Homeward, Angel" (quoting a phrase from John Milton's 1637 elegy "Lycidas"), he meant "Look toward home." Most of the "ward" ideas are conveyed nowadays not with adverbs ("He head - ed homeward") but with prepositional phrases with toward: "toward home" or, more abstractly, "toward a resolution of the problem." That's probably just as well. Oth- erwise, we'd end up with a lot of ad hockery: offceward, for instance, as the counterpart to homeward, or even Star- bucksward, for those who want to ensure that "third places" are well represented in the lexicon of adverbs. So where is awkward heading? Toward "awk"? More or less, yes – speak- ing strictly etymologically. The Online Etymology Dictionary explains awkward as going back to the middle of the 14th century and meaning "in the wrong direction." I can imagine somebody coming out of a tavern in the evening, climbing onto his horse, mistaking one dimly lit path (was there any other kind in the 14th century?) for another, and fnding himself a few hours later in the wrong village. That would be a quintessential "awkward situation." Awk, as a stand-alone adjective, meant "turned in the wrong way." When I was in college, I had a professor who, when any of our class would turn a phrase the wrong way in writing a paper, would note in red ballpoint ink in the margin of the page, "Awk!" It became the thing one wanted most to avoid. The Online Etymology Dictionary reports that there were other formations from awk, none of them surviving: awky, awkly, and awkness. Given the endur- ing human capacity for dumb mistakes, I should think we could still be getting some use out of these words if we hadn't, in effect, set them out on the curb for recycling. Awk itself went obsolete in the 17th century. Awkward lives on, of course; it's meant "clumsy" since at least the 1520s. Awkwardness was in use to mean "social embarrassment" by the late 18th century. But that sense of misdirection remains embedded in the word. Words tend to carry their history within them. They're like names for real estate subdivisions that may seem a bit fanciful but tend to have a nub of truth to them. ("There was a farm here under all this asphalt? Really?") The clues are there if you know where to look. verbal energy by ruth Walker Buckminster Fuller – inventor, architect, engineer, and poet – was also the father of synergistics, which studies people's roles as both participant and observer, and how each person's actions afects outcomes within the whole system, be that social or economic. His purpose in life was to apply himself to the highest advantage of others. He once said, "You do not belong to you, you belong to the universe" (Quest Maga - zine, November/December 1979). At the intersection of participant and observer, ideas and action, exists the opportunity to share one's inspiration with others. As conveyed in this week's cover story about makerspaces, collaboration and sharing inspiration most often result in something greater than the sum of the parts. Collaboration requires initiative to act on one's inspiration and to participate with others to give rise to invention and entrepreneurship. In many cases it is only fear that prevents us from taking the initia - tive necessary to turn ideas into acts. We don't need to accept the notion that as just one person we could not make a difer - ence in the advancement of society. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science movement and one of the leading thinkers of the early 20th century, wrote: "Goodness never fails to re - ceive its reward, for good- ness makes life a blessing. As an active portion of one stupendous whole, goodness identifes man with universal good" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," p. 165). When an individual aspires through unselfsh participation and inspiration to become that "active portion of one stupen - dous whole," he or she helps make "life a blessing" for the larger community. The Bi - ble's New Testament references Abraham, who, when seeking guidance, looked for a city whose "builder and maker is God" (He - brews 11:10). Turning completely to our divine source of all ideas, we, like Abraham, will receive the inspiration needed. The roles of both participant and observer are important. The observer analyzes and separates what is meaningful from what is mere clutter. In doing so he or she identifes with the universal goodness Mrs. Eddy referred to, through conscious listening, which is one way of praying. Inspiration is the result. The participant builds on that inspiration, and progress follows. Author and poet Maya Angelou gave us the answer to the crossover between participant and observer, saying, "When you get, give; when you learn, teach." The Apostle Paul's letter to the church in Corinth provides a corollary: "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufciency in all things, may abound to every good work" (II Corinthians 9:7, 8). – Michael Mooslin Makers and making a diference A ChristiAn sCienCe perspeCtive THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY | JuLY 7 & 14, 2014 47

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