Sunday, January 4, 2009

What’s a carbuncle

To paraphrase Wittgenstein, “carbuncle” is a funny word. It sounds like a coconut dropped down a stairwell. It bounces from the ah!-I’ve just dropped my coconut!-to a deep, hard “unk”-Oh, that’s a chunk of wall I’ll need to replace!- to the final, horrifying yet comical “ul”. Better call 911. That last bounce took out the building's super.

But unlike coconuts, carbuncles themselves are rarely funny. They are either beautiful or painful. You see, "carbuncle" has collected a pair of the most mismatched definitions ever. A carbuncle can either be a beautiful gem, such as a ruby, or a skin wound that oozes pus.

A carbuncle is something that can be beautiful and priceless beyond measure, coveted and killed for. Or it can be that painful thing which makes others reel back is disgust. We all have our own carbuncle, and at times it can be difficult to see the ruby in the boil because it's not just a matter of perspective. When the carbuncle hurts, it is not a ruby. We can't turn it into a ruby just by knowing it could become one. We have to work to make it a ruby. And that's hard to do when you're in pain and don't really believe carbuncles can be rubies.

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