All language is arbitrary. You’ll often run into people who want to shut down conversations by saying that something isn’t a “real word” or that a lack of “proper” grammar somehow obfuscates a point. If it’s not clear, I find those arguments absurd; language is all an invention, and, if you can understand a person’s meaning even when it isn’t expressed exactly how you’d like it to be, there’s no breakdown in communication.
It seems like people really believe in real words, as if those, too, weren’t invented by somebody somewhere. But that raises an interesting question; at what point does an invented word become a real one?
“Cualacino,” my word for today, is apparently an Italian word for the ring left behind from a cold glass. Except it’s not; as far as I can tell, it’s a word somebody made up as part of one of those ‘untranslateable words’ lists that then got circulated as truth. At what point does its meaning become concrete?
Research is important. I found this word on a list of words that don’t translate into English (despite the fact that ‘the ring left behind from a cold glass’ is, in fact, a translation) and I could have continued pushing the idea that this word really exists in Italian because it’s convenient or interesting or because I trusted a site with a cute illustration more than a lack of etymology or the Italian people I saw blogging about having never heard the word. It isn’t real, no matter how many cute drawings you attach to it.
Anyway, here’s a drabble.
(n.) No etymology, because it’s likely not a real word.
The mark left on a table by a cold glass.
Luis picks at the table with a fingernail. There’s a foggy white circle there, a crescent moon of residual wetness that marks the place where Allegra’s last wineglass sat.
“Listen,” she’d said, gesturing wildly with her glass. “It’s not that I’m leaving you. Or, yes, I suppose, I am leaving you. But it’s not what you think.”
What Luis had thought is that the world was ending slowly, like an asteroid in an action film.
“I’ve already left,” she’d said, and set the glass down. “Ages ago. Don’t you see?”
But the mark remains, a reminder he can’t scratch off.