Monday, May 1, 2017

Extra , Read All About It

Wait, that extra virgin olive oil in your salad dressing may have deflowered a tree. You might have gotten something beyond pure; possibly super-chaste. How can olive oil or anything (one) else be extra virgin… except perhaps Immaculate Mary? Oscar Levant had a great line about knowing Doris Day before she was a virgin. That’s quite a burden to carry for the well-traveled and abused word.

Whatever ever happened to those kids peddling papers on busy corners? Extra paper, Strangler Gets the Chair or Dewey Beats Truman or Truman Beats Dewey read all about it. My father was one of them, sold the Brooklyn Eagle for three cents a throw. I wonder if he made a penny on each. It can add up fast. Two bits was serious money in those days but never a career path. Newsboy’s ancestry goes back to the heralds in court or traveling minstrels who were probably as reliable as Fox News by the time they reached a distant town.

That word, extra, has traveled a circuitous route. It is probably short for extraordinary and yet also means the opposite as extras in a movie who, at the bottom of the pay scale, are especially not extraordinary. With change belts around their waist, newsboys in movies, were extras hawking extraordinary messages. The word can mean both superlative or superfluous.

When those kids went to school they might get extra credit on their assignment if they wrote a short essay explaining why tiny Portugal and Holland became such world powers or how Washington and his troops endured a winter at Valley Forge. Extra paper, Washington Freezes at Valley Forge.

Extra also comes up in Scripture as something beyond the official text, as in extra-biblical literature such the Apocrypha or, I suppose, the Talmud in that other Testament. Every Testament had its extras. This extra is neither superlative nor incidental; it is other. My preference would always be with the extra other.

In our crazy language extra letters are sometimes vital unless you want to be the first to sit in a spelling Bee. The word, run, requires an extra n before the ing, particularly if you are running for class president in the 3rd grade. Otherwise you may end up cleaning the erasers instead which could be extra humiliating.

A recent book reveals that Nabokov’s favorite word was, mauve. Of course he’s still dead and can’t defend himself. I wouldn’t be extra-surprised to learn that extra is one of those words authors could live without unless one is describing olive oil which is what started me on all this and I still can’t believe there’s not another way of describing olive oil less acidic than all the others. How about calling one, Virgin, and the extra good stuff, Immaculate?

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