An Absolute Pleasure

The Latin verb solvere, like English’s to put or to take lends itself to multitudinous idioms. It can mean “to untie,” “to release,” “to unbind,” “to loosen what restricts,” “to throw off,” “to pay,” and on and on. The word’s entry in my Latin dictionary is over four inches long. (Yes, I measured it.)

To solvere a ligatam is to untie a bond. To solvere a funem can be to loosen a rope, as in setting sail. To solvere pecuniam debitam means to discharge a debt. (Set it free!)

The English derivative that jumps out, of course, is solve, and don’t you feel unbound when you land on the answer to the daily Wordle? You’ve untied that knot and are free to go about your day! And what is your answer called? It’s a solution, and, guess what, the participle of solvere is solutus, which means, literally, “having been released.”

A chemical solution is a homogeneous mixture in which the two (or more) combined substances can no longer be differentiated. Where’s the unbinding? explains, “Think of solution . . . as a loosening of the chemical bonds that make something solid––when you loosen the structure of salt by mixing it into water, you create a solution.”

Now perhaps a bunch of other English derivatives are coming to mind. Insolvent. Dissolve. Dissolute. Resolve.

An absolution is a formal release from guilt or punishment, emphasis on the release. The prefix ab means from or away from. So absolution frees you from guilt. I’ve been on the library waiting list for Alice McDermott’s new novel Absolution for weeks; she’s one of my favorite writers. As you can see, it finally came in, and I’m looking forward to starting it when I finish some other reading.

McDermott is a Catholic, although a dissident and unsettled one like me. The priest releases one from the confessional with an absolution. I’m sure McDermott’s take on the word will be more nuanced, tentative, and complicated than a simple “Go and sin no more.” I’m looking forward to finding out.

If you’ve read it, don’t tell me anything. But do tell me what you’re reading.

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3 Responses to An Absolute Pleasure

  1. Sarah Becker says:

    Reading The enigma of room 622 by Joel Dicker (title is fantastic; don’t you want to know what was in room 622?). It’s a mystery. I won’t try to solve it; I’ll wait until the author provides the solution.

    Perhaps the perpetrator will hope for absolution. If in jail, they may hope to be released. Some mystery authors do not resolve their plots; instead they leave their audiences in the limbo of imagining their own solutions.

    One fictional detective indulges in a 7% solution of cocaine when he doesn’t have any sufficiently difficult problems to solve. Perhaps he obtained some kind of release from boredom.

  2. Jewel Moulthrop says:

    Love Alice McDermott! Looking forward to reading her latest. Hope you’re liking it.

  3. michael whitely says:

    Currently reading the third part of a trilogy by Brian Rotman from Ohio State University – just to tie it to your situation. The first was on zero, which signifies nothing but disrupted the Roman numbering system and reintegrated it on a new basis. As with the Roman Catholic Church, there must have been dissidents who were dissatisfied with a system that was good for placing one rock on another to build a wall and form an arch, but not for what they wanted to do.

    A priest whose morality consists of a numbering system for sins plus corresponding penances would only provoke someone who is familiar with the Kent State University massacre and the students’ striving for actual morality. Such a person would want to disrupt the whole hierarchical system and reintegrate it on the actual morality of Christ and the Apostles. Oh dear! Have I projected my own stuff?

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