Today I present the inaugural edition of Word of the Week. (I welcome suggestions for a more creative – and less predictable – title for this feature... though the alliteration is pleasing.) And of course, since people will almost always cheat if they think they can get away with it, I'm going to muse on two words. Actually three. Well, probably more than that by the time I'm done.
I love words. I string them together for a living, but the words themselves, in their solitary state, give me at least as much pleasure. How I enjoy letting a favorite word roll off the tongue, loll in my brain! Word of the Week will be less an etymology lesson, and more about my emotional connection to particular words.
One of my favorite words growing up (and this shows you what kind of books I was reading, and how liberal was my upbringing) was debauch. One can debauch another, or become debauched, or act in a debauched fashion. One can host a wild debauch or engage in debauchery. One can, and one often does. Debauched means to be corrupted, or made wanton – both the act of being made these things, and the way one is afterward. It can be what one is, or what one does to someone else. I am debauched, and so I debauch you.
(Sorry for all of the ones. I get in trouble sometimes for using you, but I know one sounds a little pretentious.)
There's a sort of complicity inherent in the word. One may be forcibly abased or debased or corrupted, but I always feel that one must agree to be debauched. Like the word seduce, its roots lie not in forcing, but convincing – leading someone astray. They hold out their hand – but you have to take it.
It comes from Middle French debaucher, to lure away from work or duty. (Seduce is from Latin, se- + ducere, to lead away.) I'm almost perpetually being debauched. Whenever I put off making dinner to read one more chapter, I'm debauched. Every time I stop writing and jump on Facebook, I'm debauched.
I always felt guilty for getting distracted from my work – now I can feel downright wicked.
Only recently did I learn there's a similar-sounding word, debouch. It means to move from a narrow space to an open space, and is mostly used when referring to rivers or marching columns of soldiers. It can also be used more loosely – I can debouch from my car; a mouse can debouch from the crack beneath my refrigerator.
Here's the truly glorious thing, the part that really tickles me. People (and waterways) are almost always debouching from defiles. (A defile is a narrow gorge.) So now I'm just dying to set up a scene where a young lady traveling with soldiers can be debauched and defiled in the defile and then debouch from the defile. Can I write a whole book for the pleasure of using a single sentence?