Mirene Arsanios

About

She decided to remain at the hotel overnight, preferring not to travel in the dark, was a sentence she copied from page seventeen of a book called WORDS, a manual for students of business who wished to “keep abreast of work practices and customs.” The sentence illustrated how the final consonant of a verb was doubled before a suffix beginning with a vowel.

The book was printed in 1911, in the United States of America. She was in Beirut and more than a century away from the context and history of WORDS, yet, she was in a hotel and it was getting dark outside. She decided to remain at the hotel overnight. She was tired after all.

It wasn’t her first time in Beirut, but this time, she had come for a two-day conference on science and aesthetics hosted by the Beirut Art Center. The conference was over and her stay at the hotel was no longer covered. If she hadn’t procrastinated all day, she could have taken the train and left the city by night. She was behind schedule with nearly everything: packing, responding to emails, feeding herself. She also had an essay to write for the Reanimation Library, she would write it tonight, she thought. To those who can best do the work, all work in this world is sooner or later committed.

To begin her essay, she stared at WORDS’ innocuous, brown laminated cover for a few seconds. Pronunciation, Application, Spelling, were embossed in an inverted triangle just beneath the title. She thought of scraping the cover with her finger in order to sneak into the book, rubbing off the paper page after page, as if to dig a small tunnel. Instead, she opened WORDS on the Contents page. It comprised one- hundred-and-two lessons spanning from the use of prefixes and suffixes, to technical vocabularies on Electrical and Radio.

LESSON 81 — ELECTRICAL AND RADIO-ELECTRICITY
Annular, bimetallic, coherer, concentric, elliptic, equalizers, galvanic, voltage, depolarize, alternating, coupling, vacuum, Macaroni, kinetic, residual, hysteresis.

In her Mac’s Dictionary App, hysteresis was defined as the phenomenon in which the value of a physical property lags behind changes in the effect causing it, as for instance when magnetic induction lags behind the magnetizing force. WORDS’ second edition was published in 1929, the year of the great financial crash, a massive and unprecedented magnetic induction. How ironic, or plain that it was intended for business students. WORDS, perhaps like capitalism itself, didn’t know anything about capitalism. It was simply a guide for those wishing to get acquainted with the language of calamities. An etiquette book, a secretarial manual written on the premise that in order to do business, one must speak business. Could WORDS have precipitated the greatest crash in modern history? That thought made her smile.