Thursday, January 19, 2006

All Is Not Luminous

Struck once by lightning, you can call it a fluke. Twice, a coincidence. Thrice, a disturbing trend.

The first time I noticed the word “luminous” in print, it referred to the quality of Meg Ryan’s skin. It seemed a unique descriptor. Accosted by “luminous” a second time, I thought it was perhaps like the freckle under the lower lid of my right eye—something that had been there all along but managed to escape attention. Upon a third encounter, I started to suspect a conspiracy funded by the Luminous Lobby.

Actors give “luminous” performances. A new building’s design is “luminous.” The word jolts me out of whatever I’m reading, much the way cilantro can ruin an otherwise serviceable salsa.

While I have no proof of a malevolent agenda—I tried to keep a file of my various run-ins with luminous but the manila folder was never handy when needed—I am unsettled by the tentacle-like incursion of the word into our collective punditry.

Why does luminous plague me so?

My quarrel is not so much that the word is applied incorrectly or at best ambiguously—although I do believe this frequently to be the case—as that it is applied too liberally. (For the record, the definition: 1. Emitting light, esp. self-generated light.2. Full of light; illuminated. 3. Easily comprehended; clear.)

I chafe at the suggestion of so much radiance, at all this luster. It simply raises unreal expectations. Where once the term may have been rationed, reserved to describe Mother Theresa, now it’s applied to our pearly whites. We are being led to believe that anything and everything has the capacity for brilliance.

I know this not to be the case.

A walk to the Post Office ends not in an epiphany but with the failure to purchase two-cent stamps. Dinner is not a grand epicurious event but a bowl of popcorn chased by a handful of chocolate chips. Sometimes even Christmas feels like just another day.

All is not luminous. Stop telling me that it is.


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