I’m incensed. Or at least, I was. I’m over it now, but the cause of my initial incensement was the term “incensed” itself. People have told me the ideas I have are rather bizarre. Being myself, I’m unaware to what extent that supposition is accurate. I suppose it would vary person to person. I’ll explain why the term incensed incensed me and you may judge for yourself the severity of my bizarrity. If you even care to bother to do so.
I was lying in bed the other night, thinking. Earlier we had burned some incense in the living room. I postulate that this is the reason it came readily to mind as I was drifting in the haze between wakefulness and slumber. It occurred to me that incense is a word that, in addition to referring to the fragranced sticks I had recently burned, could be modified to end with the letter “d” and thereby refer to being angry. This thought incensed me for two reasons. First, that the English language would suffer a word to mean “good smelling stuff” and “extremely angry”. These are two quite opposite things and I picture a very drunk Mr. Webster sitting at his desk. Fresh track marks on the insides of his elbows glow in the firelight as he takes his quill in hand. Spread before him on the blonde oak desktop is a bit of parchment, pristine but for the capital I heading the top of the page. Anticipatory sweat beads on his forehead as he thinks of the wild night of dictionary writing ahead of him. His stomach flutters as the quill approaches the page and he struggles through the fog of alcohol and drugs to remember where he left off. Oh, yeah! He writes the word Incense: and then he scratches out the definition; a bit of wood you burn that smells good. The intoxicants coursing through his system incense him. That’s it? NO! Nah, that isn’t enough. It needs…well…I mean, its just a noun. Maybe it could be more perjorative. Why, it can’t even conjugate. I’ll fix this. After all, I am the only dictionary writer in the Colonies. It’s practically my duty to give this little noun a bit of attitude. I mean, most colonists don’t even know what incense is. It’s so…Eastern. And so, beneath Incense he writes Incensed: to be extremely mad. He sighs a contented sigh and moves on to whatever is after Incensed alphabetically. Second, I was incensed because in my state of being nearly asleep I became confused as to whether I was even correct in thinking that incensed meant angry. Was I merely inventing my own language like some modern day Webster drunk on lack of sleep?
I fell asleep worried and incensed. I awoke the next morning not thinking much of it. I made it through a full day of work without thinking of it at all. But, having a day off today and being possessed of the idea that I should make some bread, my hands became busy as my mind sat idle. Many thoughts crossed my brain but none stuck until my wife began making a deal of the fact that the incense sticks weren’t burning so well. As my floury hands kneaded the warm, supple dough, my brain began to hint at becoming incensed again. I had to know whether or not I was mistaken. I set my dough aside to rise and pulled up a dictionary on the old cell phone. Sure enough, incensed can mean extremely mad. I didn’t understand why. It really doesn’t seem to make sense on the surface. A sweet smelling burning stick and anger really don’t fit together in such a way as to share a root word. Or so I thought. As I continued to take my dough through the processes of rises and punch downs, divides and rests and preheats, I discovered some connections. To be honest, I’m a bit embarrassed to present these to anyone reading as the symbology seems so simple in retrospect, but realizing this is how I came to be completely over being incensed at the word incensed so here I outline the thought process that freed me from incensement.
On first hearing the word incensed, one might reasonably believe it means to have one’s person inundated with the smoke of burning incense to the point that one emits the odor for a time after the inundation has ended. Or it could logically be construed to mean that someone had been coated in an aromatic substance. The connection between these connotations and anger still eluded me. Until my wife opened the door to let the dog out and from the corner of my eye I glimpsed the end of a burning, sandalwood scented stick on the counter top glow bright red as a puff of wind blew a streamer of ash from the tiny coal. Anger burns, I thought, so there’s a connection, but, in my case, anyway, it burns bright and hot. It flares and quickly burns itself out consuming its oxygen and fuel supply in a blast of tense feelings and ill conceived actions. It is usually regretted later and it flares. It doesn’t smolder or smoke. That doesn’t quite resemble incense. I was washing my hands when it occurred to me that perhaps incense is a fitting analogy for anger after all. In my mind it goes like this: The anger of incensement is that deep seated anger that, for those of us possessed of a rational mind, is reserved for the most heinous or egregious assaults against our morality or sensibility. It smolders, hiding from view under a layer of ash and emitting thin streamers of smoke. Just enough to keep an ember alive. The sweet scent of the smoke is our attempt to mask our shame at holding on to anger; an action known to be detrimental to the mind as well as the body. The ash is the smile that hides the gritted teeth and seals the angry words inside until that puff of wind casts it off. The ember glows, the smoke disappears as the fire begins to more efficiently consume its fuel…
And with that I will bid you Adieu…and a don’t
Adieu…look into the intricacies and inconsistencies of the English language. A question I enjoy asking of people: If the teacher from his textbook taught, has not the preacher from the scriptures praught? Etymology is an interesting, if fairly useless field.
A don’t…misconstrue my portrayal of Mr. Webster as a drug riddled alcoholic to be representative of my grasp of history. I’m sure he was a noble man.