by Robin Allen
As a person who makes her living with words, you'd think I would love every single one of them, but for no rational reason, I loathe the word festoon. It's a self-consciously jaunty word that shares its first syllable with fester, which is what I do every time I see it in print. (And that's the only time I'm aware of the word because no one actually uses the word in conversation. It's too stoopid. Say it out loud now: festoon. See? Stoopid. Festoopid.)
Two of my favorite writers, however, have used it in their essays. One is forgiven, the other is not.
"It's a[n]…Everest of shellfish, an intimidating, multilevel tower of crushed ice and seaweed, piled, heaped—festooned with oysters from nearby Belon, and slightly farther away Cancale." –Anthony Bourdain, "Lust," Medium Raw
Bourdain could have left out "festooned" altogether or substituted "shored up" or "scaffolded" or "strewn." I forgive Tony because later in the essay he writes about local red wines "whose rough charms have lately got a serious hold on you....The Baron Rothschild could back his car up to the door, trunk full of monster vintages, he's drunk and offering them for free—and you would decline."
Peter Mayle is not forgiven.
"Men were scarce. They would be picked up later, festooned with shopping bags, and led away to whatever joys awaited them that evening." –Peter Mayle, "Undressing for Lunch," French Lessons
Pete is trying make a weak sentence interesting. He could have used a less pretentious word, such as "ladened" or "garnished." This is, after all, an essay—an entire book—about food.
I dislike other words, of course, but writing festoon so many times at a single sitting has done me in.
What about you? Is there a word or phrase that makes you cringe or chaps your hide when you see it in print?
Author of the Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop Mystery Series
If You Can't Stand the Heat
Now available on Kindle, Nook, and eBook
See my poem "A Friday Afternoon" in the 2012 Texas Poetry Calendar