An Erst-While Endeavor: a Short Story

An Erst-While Endeavor

by Joel Howard


Poor ‘Erst’!

How often is this simple yet utilitarian word called upon in today’s world? Alas, rarely. And it is sad, is it not, the loss of a noble word, such as the once mighty, monosyllabic ‘Erst’? Today he is mostly abandoned, despite his easy and simple nature. His being ignored has fallen heavy upon the life, or at least the versatility, of our language. One may venture to say that as a word, poor Erst is worst for wear. Yes, yes, I know, while not grammatically correct, that statement does have a rhyming cadence  –  Erst to worst  –   and as our language has suffered the ills of ‘dufus’ and ‘irregardless’ in casual conversations, and so much coarse vulgarity on national news broadcasts of late, I take such liberties with absolutely no offer of an apology.

As a word, ‘formerly’ has a past, and that past dwells upon simple little ‘Erst’, who so many eons ago was married most commonly to ‘While’, forming the ‘Erst-While’ family still found occasionally in today’s communications. So ‘Erst’ has yet a pulse, faint though it is. Such a tenuous clinging to life, to relevance, has the poor word on the precipice of the hereafter, standing as he is on the banks of the river Styx. Most all of us, whether deliberately or through negligence, serve as Charon, ferrying such words of beauty to the world of death. In such quiet passing there is a shocking dearth of concern, the glaring lack of a call-to-arms an occasion that saddens the heart.

Like a hand tool left to the elements, disuse is the cruel villain of words deemed archaic, nurturing the rust that too soon stifles and strangles. How very sad such a loss!  Some may find this paean to a single, wee word to be banal, even perfunctory, yet I find it not to be such. A flippant dismissal is the very disease that cost many words (and expressions, too) their lifeblood. Like Yorick and his poor ‘alas’, the carillon of death casts its dark shadow upon yet another innocent sequence of letters, slaying the once proud syllables of dear ‘alas’, a sensitive lass who surely meant no harm.    

But I digress.

Must ‘Erst’ be but flotsam upon the tides and foibles of the English language? Modern slang, it seems, is the cool cat, the hep one, the be-all entourage amongst Webster’s A-listers. Erelong, what is today most common shall tomorrow be tossed upon the monstrous pyre of our lexicon. Beware the cruel mistress of fate, for today may hold ‘hoser’ and ‘barf’ as words most useful, yet tomorrow may scoff heartily at such syllables. The wants of the masses remain fickle, my friend, so ‘tis best to be vigilant.

Was it the highly revered Dr. Seuss who said… no, wait, I believe it was Descartes who said, ‘Cogito ergo sum’. Truer (yet disused) words were never spoken. But please, dear friend, I beg that you not get me started on the cruel fate of Latin, for it is my wish here to focus solely upon English, and the many words of our language that have been abandoned most cruelly. Today, I say to ‘Erst’ and his friends, stand tall and loudly proclaim, ‘I was once spoken, therefore I am’. For you see, the bane of any word is to be relegated to a high shelf in a dank cellar, never to fall from the lips of an orator, to be but an oddity in a disused dictionary. Some words, especially those of speed and utility, deserve a fate better than death. ‘Erst’, small yet purposeful, deserves more than that cellar. So please do stand tall and proudly speak of Erst.

E-R-S-T. Oh how beautiful in your simplicity and versatility! Deem me a mooncalf (but please, call me not a hoser!) if you must, but I proffer this sincere tribute to one single word as perhaps the bellwether for other such words that yet languish on the fringes of the English language, or worse yet, have fallen to such a degree as to be unrecognizable even to their closest synonyms. Such a broken family dynamic must have the apricity of an early February day brought to bear upon its collective heart. Surely, some modicum of love, neigh decency, may be found for such trifling yet historical words. Let them not be next along the river Styx.

So it is today, pen to paper, or to be precise, fingers to keyboard, that I beseech some small reprieve for my dear friend ‘Erst’. If even the few among us add my little friend as a valiant and proud arrow to your quiver of words, then sweet breath may yet see ‘Erst’ rise to greet a new dawn. A dystopic tomorrow surely awaits if we tend not to the casual lunacy indicated by the slaying of our most noble words. Such flippant disregard, if allowed to continue unchecked, will result in nothing but darkness, mark my words. 

On behalf of such near-dead nobility as larcener and falderal (which this missive is not), and for the sake of the ne’er-do-wells and unlearned the world over who’ve nary once heard ‘Erst’ mentioned, please answer this clarion call to act in saving at least this one word. I pray that it was never miscreants who planned with malice in their hearts who did mostly slay ‘Erst’, but rather the skullduggery of pure mindlessness that cast my dear friend to the far corners of usefulness (oh, that dank cellar again!) in today’s most officious communiques and common asides.

So please, go forth today upon yon world with dear ‘Erst’ ripe upon your lips, breathing life into this word so useful. Do this ‘irregardless’ of all else; be not dissuaded by any catcalls of ‘dufus’ cast your way.


Speak now, my friend...