At Large : Official word
I have been consumed for quite a while - years really - with a matter of overarching seriousness. My goal has been the development of an important public proposal of a progressive nature. Not mere week-to-week commentary on civic affairs, this is a forward-looking suggestion which is meant to distinguish our community from so many others.
At the outset, I must confess that my proposal is necessarily derivative of practices common elsewhere. But here's the point. Connecticut is the nutmeg state, is it not? New Hampshire's official motto is "Live Free or Die." The official state bird of Massachusetts is the seagull. (Or is it? Well, if it isn't it might as well be. They're everywhere, nasty birds, and the mess they make if your boat is moored in an area where they like to fish, well, it is unspeakable. But I've gotten off the point.)
The point is that states all have official this's and that's, and I think the Vineyard should have an official something too. Back in the 1970s, when we agitated about seceding from the Commonwealth and even the United States but didn't do it, there was a popular design for a Martha's Vineyard official flag. Of course, it had a gull on it, if I remember it correctly. But it never caught on, and it never was officially adopted by anyone in authority.
What I have in mind is an official Martha's Vineyard Adjective. I have done a careful study of the 50 states and nearly 60 English-speaking countries across the world. None has an official adjective. Official flowers, yes, birds, nuts, trees, mottos, yes, yes, yes, and yes. But not adjectives.
At first I thought my purpose would be served by the mere enshrinement of that adjective so favored by so many - especially letter writers - to describe, well, really everything. Thus when we or they referred to that "special intersection" where the auto accident occurred, or that "special landfill" which is hosting a "special hazardous waste drop-off day" or that "special skunk" found flat on the road, or the tent city erected each summer in the "special scrub oak woods" as housing for summer employees, each such reference would be an official use of the Martha's Vineyard Adjective.
But special, the adjective, has to my ear, and I suspect to yours, become hackneyed. Too much of a special thing, sort of. The beach is special, the grass is special, the pond is special, the air is special, the taxis are special, the highway department is special, the views are special, even those bloody gulls are special. It doesn't work any more. It's too much to ask of one adjective with no official status.
To address this problem, we need a fresh adjective - I almost wrote "special adjective" but caught myself just in time - and, just as important, we must act officially to have it adopted by the seven town meetings in Dukes County next spring. I had thought to get it on the ballot for Nov. 4, but it's too much. We have plenty on our plates, election-wise.
What should it be, the new official and exclusive Adjective of Martha's Vineyard? Well, after considerable study, and with the advice of writers of undeniable accomplishment who, although they do not live here year-round consider themselves to have a, er, special relationship with the place, I propose "precious." (I thought about "darling" or "cunning" but one was all tangled up with romantic love, and the other has a mildly sinister quality. I didn't want that.)
You might argue that the difference between special and precious is small, and in some senses you would be correct. But you could not argue that old faithful has escaped the wizened and tattered appearance of an adjective of advancing years. It certainly has not. Precious is sprightly by comparison. It has no common, familiar air about it. It is a modest step up in value from special, and were it to get the official nod from seven town meetings, it would absolutely attract the same sort of wholehearted allegiance we give to any town meeting proposal that calls for shifting the tax burden from year-rounders to summer property owners.
Informal polling of voters in the Vineyard towns - at lease those who were not swooning over the appallingly diminished value of their 401K statements and able to get to the phone - suggests that precious would beat special handsomely if balloting were conducted today. I have not investigated opinion on Gosnold, the mysterious seventh Dukes County town. And it is true that the language of choice among those peculiar Cuttyhunkers - "finest kind", for instance, for a job well done - has fewer ruffles and flourishes than ours, but who among them, if pressed, would not agree that theirs is a precious island too.