Hello the Escapery! This week I learned that step–the step in step-brother, step-sister, step-mother, step-great-aunt–does not have original roots in the idea of removal, of different, of wicked and cruel. Instead it comes from the idea of grief. A step-child has lost a parent. They are a grieving child. Back in the day, step-child could be a synonym for orphan. Because often step-children were orphans.
Not so much this:
More of this:
Which totally makes sense. Step-families, no matter how wonderful they are (yes I am thinking Brady Bunch. I kind of tried not to, but I did) indicate change, loss of what was, the realigning of personal tectonic plates and, somewhere in the process of stepping, there will be some grief, aloneness and, possibly hope for a rich uncle to come and save you.
I bring up the rich uncle because he has been very much on my mind as well this week. I went looking to find out if the whole step/grief thing was true and discovered that, for a good long while (and maybe still in French?), uncle was slang for pawn broker. The correlation grew from a strong, and hopeful, cultural trope of distant rich uncles who showed up and got woe begotten nephews out of trouble. (Although possibly into new kinds of debt. Those uncles are tricky ones.) So when you went to stake the silver in order to pay rent you went to see Uncle. Imagine my delight at this information!
Step-uncle. What dizzying joy that a single word could hold so much story, so much human experience. Orphaned. Distant. Evil. Benevolent. Rich. Dream. Hope.
That is just one word. Imagine what we can find here:
And all the bulging with context and content words that we can find here:
And, indeed, what if it turned out to not really be true, that step-daughter never really meant orphan? That uncles never had to do with hocking your worldly possessions? I, for one, am glad to have heard the story. It feels right. The idea of these relationships has become more rich, more full of possibility and nuance.
Here are writing things you could do: Write into those paintings shown above. What words do they contain? What story? OR (AND) Make up some etymology. Pick a word. Cake. Feline. Robust. Whatever. Imagine a history for that word back, back, through all the time that humans have spent trying to express what is happening. Imagine a future for that word. What will it become? Imagine a journey, transformations, little excursions, for that word. It’s a way to think about where we humans have been. Where we might go.
Interested in more writing prompts and more discussions on studying the stories that surround us? Then please be a part of the Other Fictions Workshop. Find even more information here. We’ll be exploring visual art and music and film and other disciplines to discover fiction. And, of course, we will create lots of new work. Hope to see you there.