I thought about some friends and their marital problems the other day.
I had no particular reason to think about them, except that I happened to pass a collection of books on a table at the front of a bookstore. The book that leapt out at me had the title 100 Catastrophic Disasters.
I can’t mention the names of the friends, for obvious reasons, but the book title seemed to sum up their marriage perfectly, or at least my understanding of it. Their household is one of those places where the word boredom has no place.
I thumbed my way through 100 Catastrophic Disasters and discovered that the bits I saw had nothing about marriages. They were more about events such as the destruction of Pompeii, the San Francisco earthquake and the London fire.
I didn’t buy the book. My first thought was that the title was a bit too much like the “shock horror” front pages of some of our weekly or monthly magazines that find their way to doctors’ waiting rooms.
...boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and they ride off happily into the sunset. That’s a catastrophe.
But I have to admit, the title was a bit more imaginative than When Mother Lets Us Make Paper Box Furniture or 75 Exciting Vegetables for Your Garden.
People use a variety of words to describe marriages. Some end in disaster – I read in a city paper only the other day that two-thirds of marriages end in death – and some are in trouble before the reception has ended. I attended a wedding in Singleton many years ago when the ambulance service was treating bloodied combatants on the church lawn even before the bride had walked down the aisle.
But the time existed when a catastrophic marriage was a happy occasion.
Those familiar with Shakespeare’s King Lear might recall Edmund’s reference to Edgar arriving “like the catastrophe of the old comedy”. In Henry IV Falstaff suggests he will “tickle your catastrophe”.
In old Greek dramas, the introduction, or protasis, was followed by the epitasis and then the catastrophe. Mirriam-Webster said “the resolution of a comedy was also known as a catastrophe and typically took the form of a marriage”. In other words, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and they ride off happily into the sunset. That’s a catastrophe.
Incidentally, the word apostrophe means turning away, or showing where something has been omitted. So these days, a happy marriage starts out as a catastrophe and when it ends in divorce one of the partners has become an apostrophe.
Many people still rule their lives by the planets or by “what the stars say”.
The word disaster entered our language in the late 16th century with the meaning of any malevolent influence of the stars. It came from the Latin “dis”, against, and “astrum”, star.
I’ve never had much to do with “the stars” but I can recall that, at a newspaper where I once worked, if the astrologer’s column failed to arrive in the mail some spare columns were dug out of the bottom drawer to fill the space, no matter how old they might have been.
I don’t think anybody noticed.
Speaking of catastrophic disasters, I read recently a regional newspaper’s report of a library upgrade. The report started by saying the library was “coping with highly organised chaos” to develop a new computer management system.
That’s what I like – chaos that is highly organised.
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