Saturday, April 10, 2010

If We Could Delete One Word From the Language ...

... specifically, the language used among worship leaders, it would be ...

Wait. What's your choice?

Some readers will leap to defend their preferred practices, or to strike a blow against the practices they dislike. Delete the word "incense," and perhaps those wretched chancel-prancers will have nothing with which to annoy your nostrils. Or, working the other end of the liturgical spectrum, delete "cups," plural, and congregations would necessarily default to the use of only one. (Sadly, "grape" and "juice" are two words, and so extend beyond our present purview).

But what about words for perfectly, or at least reasonably, innocuous objects and customs? Surely there is a reader, somewhere, who cannot abide the word "cassock," and longs desperately for the day that all English-speakers borrow the French word "soutane." Or maybe somebody who considers the adjective "Laudian" a misleading, even unintentionally confrontational, word to describe an altar frontal. (If those are in fact your choices, we think you're a little weird, but de gustibus etc.)

Fine. Picked your favorite? Here's ours, as used in a sentence which one sees frequently in invitations to occasional ceremonies. See if you can find it: "Clergy are invited to vest and process."

Ahh, you think. Father Anonymous is worked up about the way people nowadays use "clergy" as a plural, and without the customary definite article. Nor are you entirely mistaken. An invitation reading "The clergy is ..." would certainly be likelier to bring us thither, and wearing our better-quality vestments at that. But that's a correction, not a deletion.

No, friends, the word we long to strike from the liturgical lexicon is "process," used as a verb, with an accent on the second syllable. People use it, and have used it for several generations, as a brief way of saying "walk in procession." The problem is, of course, that a brief way to say that already exists, and has for many generations longer: the verb "to procede."

Some years ago, feeling suspicious already, we looked the word up in the OED, which we will now cite from memory because no copy is at hand. The ultimate source, obviously, is the Latin verb procedere, which means just what you think it does. From this, the Romans formed processio, to mean either a military advance or a religious parade. But it was not until the 19th century that somebody thought to invent a new verb, a "back-formation" in the jargon of the language game. Thus was born "pro-CESS." As we recall, the OED then added, with a perceptible sniff, that its use was "chiefly jocular."

"Chiefly jocular!" And as it were scales fell from the little cleric's eyes. "Chiefly jocular," indeed. You see the point, surely? They were joking. The people who started saying "let us process down the aisle" did so on the understanding that any educated person would catch the neologism, and understand it to mean "proceed." We believe that this is what people politely call "donnish wit," the same mild verbal playfulness by which a scholar of Semitic philology, saying goodbye to his friend the professor of classics, might reach for his "titfer" -- not because it is the right word for people of their background, but precisely because it is the wrong one.

Incidentally, if we were to adopt all the mild jokes of the Victorian High Churchmen into "official" modern English, we would be required to speak of our low-church friends as "the Peculiars." Which we do, but not consistently. By the same token, we don't mind occasionally being asked to process down an aisle, provided only that under normal circumstances (and in such formal ones as a written invitation) we are asked to procede.

1 comment:

Pastor Joelle said...

I just tell my choir "We are going to have parade this morning"