Love of words expands into sweetness of doing nothing

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Lynne Cope Hummell

If you have been reading this column for more than a few months, you probably already know how much I value words. I don't mean the writing of them - although I definitely enjoy and value that too - but just ... well, words.

I like to toy with words, to tumble them around in my brain and think about how they were invented. What could possibly have inspired someone to create the word "subpoena," for instance? It's an odd word, isn't it?

How about words for body parts and organs? (Keep it clean, now!) What a weird glossary we humans carry with us! How did "thumb" come to mean that very important but goofy-shaped appendage?

Why do guys have an Adam's apple? Didn't he give his to Eve?

Words are magical and intriguing. I have taken to jotting down unfamiliar words when I come upon them. Earlier this year, I started reading the 1925 novel "Porgy" by South Carolina writer DuBose Heyward and discovered two cool words in the first few pages: "mendicancy" and "atavistic."

I've recently downloaded the Merriam-Webster dictionary app because it offers a "Word of the Day." Sometimes the word is fairly common, and I know it ("disbursement"). Sometimes it's an odd word, and I still know it ("lacuna") because I saw it before and looked it up. Sometimes I haven't a clue ("shot-clog," which is an interesting one. Look it up!).

Words, origins and meanings are the kinds of thing I think about when I'm happily daydreaming on a lazy afternoon, sitting in a lawn chair in the yard, doing nothing except watching clouds go by and listening to birds chirping and neighbor kids squealing past on their bikes.

I've recently learned there are words for what I'm doing - Italian words! "Dolce far niente" is how Italians describe "the sweetness of doing nothing." That sounds far sexier than "the art of being lazy," doesn't it?

Meeting up at happy hour recently, a group of friends discussed some of the simple pleasures of seemingly mundane efforts.

Jane said she loves walking out onto her back porch in the morning, in her bathrobe and slippers, to water her patio garden. She's the one who taught us the phrase "dolce far niente." She said that "instead of scorning the lack of productive activity, the Italians celebrate it"! Bravo!

Karen pointed out that we are not necessarily being lazy; rather, we generally are accomplishing something meaningful that we enjoy, just at a slower pace than others might.

For Ann, a leisurely walk with her husband to a nearby restaurant for dinner, then on to another for dessert, is a perfect ending to a random day. They don't have a plan, they just walk and talk.

Just being with loved ones, and not necessarily doing anything, can bring a certain peace and joy - a sweetness - to an otherwise boring point in time. It seems especially nice if said time is a vacation or road trip.

Think about those little things you like to do that seem insignificant but still bring you joy - whether you are alone or not. Sitting on the deck with a cup of coffee at first light. Dangling your legs off the dock, enjoying a beer at sunset. Strolling on the beach. Watering the lawn. Sitting in the grass in your backyard, playing solitaire on your iPad. Talking to your neighbor over the hedge, or over a deck of cards, or a shot of whisky.

Summertime is perfect for these random acts of "dolce far niente" - but then, so is any other season.

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