“She gets trapped in a viscous cycle.”

Some words are just plain hard to spell. Sometimes you just get spun around as you try to remember if the ending is “-ence” or “-ance,” “-able” or “-ible.” The word meaning a screen for straining just doesn’t look right, spell it “sieve” or “seive.” And does an army mount a “siege” or a “seige” as it tries to “sieze”…umm, “seize” a town? And then there are all the “sc” words, which also never look quite right. And the spinning accelerates.

I guess it becomes a spin cycle.

For this student, obviously it became a viscous cycle. Comes between the “wash” cycle and the “rinse” cycle. The “spin” cycle comes last.

I really, really sympathize with “viscous.” Spell-check won’t help, of course, since “viscous” is every bit as legitimate a word as “vicious.”

I was temporarily side-tracked there by a vision of delicious couscous. Sorry.

The word “vicious” really does seem to need an “s” in there, doesn’t it? An “sc” cluster, just to make it feel a little meaner. You can say you don’t hear an “s,” but you don’t hear a “c” in “science,” either, do you? Come to think of it, there is something a little mean about science—or was I just remembering my high school chemistry teacher?

Of course “luscious” has an “sc” cluster, and there’s nothing mean about it.

So, anyway, do you spell the word in question according to the pattern in “delicious” or the pattern in “luscious”?

Excuse me a moment while I chuckle over that old favorite, “GHOTI.”

I haven’t mentioned that my student could simply have consulted a dictionary if she had a question about spelling. I’m thinking the probability is that she didn’t know she had a question about spelling.

For the student, it’s enough to correct the error. But for the reader, especially a reader who’s a little bit tired, visions develop and multiply.

The viscous cycle must be that stage in the laundry process when all the mud and gunk in the clothing turns the wash water into muck and everything goes sloshing slowly and sloppily around and around, a thick, glutinous mess, waiting for the spinning to accelerate and pull some of the sticky stuff out so fresh water can pour in and rinse it all clean. Well, that’s one idea, anyway.

But since some woman gets trapped in this viscous cycle (according to my student), it must happen in something  bigger than a washing machine. If quicksand mated with a whirlpool, now, that would make a pretty good viscous cycle guaranteed to trap any hapless wanderer in the vicinity…the viscous vicinity….

What if a viscous cycle is merely a vicious cycle in sticky circumstances?

I’ve had this sentence in my Book of Horrors for a long time. I know it made me laugh. I know I must have something useful to say about it, but evidently today all I can do is spin out silly scenarios.

Or is it “scilly scenarios”? “Scylla scenarios”? Odysseus, beware.

I’ll try to get my brain into the dryer by tomorrow. Meanwhile, hasn’t this all been scintillating?

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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