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Ointment for your anticipointment in this aphercotropical year

Charles Darwin had a cruel streak. Rather than wallow in his Beagle glory, the retiree dabbed glue on index cards, using them to block the progress of pea shoots. His aim was to test the powers of Mother Nature, seeing how the tendrils coped with adversity.

The musings of scientist Charles Darwin.

The musings of scientist Charles Darwin.Credit:Alamy

Defiantly, in a word. Twist by curl, the shoots skirted the cardboard. Pious types may have dubbed such perseverance a miracle, but Darwin preferred aphercotropism. Built from Greek, the term translates as “growing away from obstacles”, just as heliotropic plants seek light, or hydrotropic shrubs will bugger your septic. Anyone who’s stumbled on a flagstone, buckled by an adjacent root, will understand the force, if not appreciate it.

Paul Anthony Jones, for one, prizes the idea. A dedicated word-hoarder, best known as Haggard Hawks on Twitter, Paul has a new book, Cabinet of Calm (Elliott & Thomson, 2020), a glossary of ‘soothing words for troubling times’, aphercotropism included.

Humans, like peas, will find a way to flourish, be our problems stationery or respiratory. No matter the hurdle, we have an age-old habit of prevailing. Eventually. Defiantly. As that’s the strength of Jones’ collection, each of the 50 words lending heart in a year when heart is most needed.

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