Tawdry, bumptious, and madcap

In my cubicle days, I worked near the production staff. There was one assistant who drove everyone crazy. She spoke in cliche and didn’t understand basic aspects of production flow even after it was explained to her twenty-five times. One of my other colleagues and I would escape the cubicles and go out to get coffee. She had three kids and a writing studio that no one, including her husband, knew about. She was wry and smart, and perpetually harassed by the assistant.

“I swear, the next time [assistant] asks me how my weekend was, I will say to her ‘It was as tawdry as it was torrid’ and see what she has to say about that,” she told me one day, as we went out to get coffee. For the rest of the time we worked together one or other of us would ask how something was and the other would reply “It was as tawdry as it was torrid.”

I’m reading a memoir that is a tad overwritten, but this sentence just about did me in.

“It was a trip as bumptious as it was madcap.”

I don’t care who your father is, memoirist, you are not allowed to use the word bumptious in all seriousness. This is a story you’ve heard other people tell too many times. It could be more interesting and less name-droppy. Instead of using old-fashioned words to talk about intellectual life in Paris in the fifties, which is what this sentence refers to, tell me like it was. Make it your own.

Let me know how it felt to be there. Make your details interesting, not just your language. Tell it yourself, and make me feel as if I were there. And I’ll bet I’ll feel neither madcap nor bumptious.

How was your evening?

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12 responses to “Tawdry, bumptious, and madcap

  1. “It wasn’t horrible.” This is how a friend once described a trip. It became our code for evenings/weekends/anything just bearable.
    .
    Sadly my evening was neither tawdry or torrid.

  2. I started a new book yesterday and the writer uses the word “impotently” twice in the first 3 pages. When I saw it on page 1, it gave me pause. I wasn’t sure it was the right word for the space. When “impotently” showed up again on page 3, I just thought, “No. No no no no no!”

    Last night I was awed, just awed, by a few Richard Selzer essays. One was so powerful I kept putting my fist to my chest, afraid of what was coming next.

      • Indy,
        Seltzer’s essays will change the way you view the world, and especially your views on postmortem. I read it over 20 years ago and still remember distinct passages.
        As for me, I’m going to find a reason to say “It was as tawdry as it was torrid.” Maybe if I play my cards right, I can ejaculate it. The beauty of words gone wrong…

  3. I may be your sister, Indy, but I don’t know what madcap is. Some kind of paper? Something that goes bang when you strike it with a rock? A person acting strangely with a hat?

    I remember a book called something like “evenings in the gardens of somewhere” whose author used the word “ejaculate” more than once in the first chapter. The book wasn’t about sex. He was writing firstly, about the play of light, and secondly, about the way someone talked. I swallowed, put down the book, and walked primly away.

    I wonder if the author of my book should meet up with the author of Teri’s book. they could balance their metaphors…

    • Clearly you didn’t read enough Jane Austen or L.M. Montgomery as a child. (And don’t ask me who L.M. Montgomery is, or you’ll break my heart.)

      Madcap is (according to Merriam-Webster) “marked by capriciousness, recklessness, or foolishness.”

  4. That bumptious just made me laugh. My evening? I watched a Linsay Lohan movie on tv. This is a very exciting Finnish city. My apartment is right in the center of town and the loudest noise is the squawking of seabirds. Do you know those bumptious little so-and-so’s scream all night in the light of arctic nights? They do.

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