“transpire”: naming the issues

I’m writing the letter from the editor for issue #8, as I usually do at the very last minute, and looking up the various dictionary entries on the issue’s chosen title, usage notes and variations and etymology, and thinking about the implications of these things, simultaneously procrastinating and researching and writing, and transpire is a fun word for this because it’s literal meaning – to breathe through – is the same as perspire – to breathe through – so both mean to give off, as waste or water vapor.  To sweat.

Yet, somehow, perspire does little more than make sweat (from Middle English and farther back Proto-Germanic) a little more Romantic (haha!), and transpire over the last few centuries has taken on all these figurative meanings – to be revealed, and even more interestingly: to be revealed as the truth.  But also simply to happen.

Which is apparently still eliciting usage panels’ and language critics’ condemnation 237 years after Abigail Adams used it in a letter (although her usage could be seen in the context of the American Revolution to mean nothing new had been revealed since her last letter, there had been no new developments, so not as simple as nothing new had occurred).

I think there’s something really magical about a word meaning to breathe through and to pass through something like skin and also to be revealed as something that happened.  In my graduate thesis I explored (in part) a theoretical text by Michael Andre Bernstein called “Foregone Conclusion: Against Apocalyptic History.”

In my understanding (and thinking about this in only the most oblique ways because I haven’t read any of these things in several years), backshadowing is narrating events as if they had to have happened.  It’s narrating the events leading up to an Event as if they had to have led to that event.  The Event having occurred removes all other possibe outcomes of the events of the story being told.

Just as what has transpired has revealed itself to be what happened.  But also, what transpires reveals itself to happen.  And what will transpire will reveal itself, will happen.

It’s a funny way of telling stories.

On it’s way: “Stand Alone Girl” by Teri Louise Kelly, the first story in Issue #8.  In the meantime, check out our past issues and send us some of your beautiful.