10.17.08

The Scheme of Things

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 10:01 am by Marion

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

OK, so I have a secret identity. In a parallel world I am a French nerd. In junior high and high school, and later in college and grad school, French was The Great Escape. As a 14-year old in first-year French class, I salivated over the music and painting, dreamed of visiting Versailles and the City of Light. You can imagine … I spent my childhood playing in tobacco barns … teenage years in eastern North Carolina … you get the picture.

Eventually I lived in my beloved France and treasure those years as a French nana, or gal, and friends with my copains and a few guys, or mecs.

Still, while my high-school classmates were enjoying a rich social life … boyfriends, cheerleading, football games and your basic teenage-fun-type activities, I was conjugating all 16 forms of irregular verbs in an old-school exercise known as the schema.

Schema in French gives us the word “schematic” and “scheme” — but in the langue natale, it refers to the laborious outline of verbs in all tenses, forms and modes. The conditional and subjunctive, too … and if you’ve ever studied French, you know the subjunctive mode makes grown mecs cry for their mommies.

So, looking at this word in our native language shows a common origin in Romance languages and our Anglo-Saxon one: Scheme comes from the Latin schema from the Greek skhema for form or figure.

In the 16th-century, the word was used to describe a diagram of the position of celestial objects, giving rise to the shorter forms, diagram and outline.

Of course we’re all familiar with the more pejorative use of the word as in What are those office malcontents scheming now?

A schemer is a person who is involved in making secret or underhanded plans, and is often associated with pettiness and meanness.

Now, I have to admit, I actually like the word scheme. It implies deep thought and planning. Never mind that it has acquired the negative connotation. Besides, sometimes we all need to do a little scheming. Especially when we’re making up for lost time.

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