I don't know if the use of the right word can ever really change anything. But it can be enjoyed, like a well-played piano. Mark Twain famously said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
Absolutely right words can appear anywhere, however rarely. I sometimes find them in obituaries, and in particular those obituaries written by Margalit Fox of the New York Times.
A few years ago she got the call to write about Delbert Mann, a film director and producer, who had a start in television and was the director of the TV movie 'Heidi,' one of the most famous TV interruptions then and since. Ms. Fox wrote of Mr. Mann's credits:
They also include a film that would haunt him to the end of his life: “Heidi,” whose ultrapunctual broadcast on NBC in 1968 famously eclipsed the final minute of a dramatic football game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders.
On Sunday, Nov. 17, 1968, the Jets were leading the Raiders 32-29, with about a minute left to play. The game was broadcast live on NBC, and on the stroke of 7 p.m., the network, intent on keeping to its published schedule, dutifully cut away to “Heidi.”
Enraged calls flooded in: what millions of viewers did not get to see was Oakland scoring two touchdowns to pull off a last-minute victory, 43-32. Famous to this day in the annals of broadcasting bloopers, the debacle was known ever after as the Heidi Game.
As the saying goes, 'those of a certain age' clearly remember this pre-empting that saw the game telecast end precisely, ultrapunctually, at 7:00 P.M. The collapse to the Raiders in the 'Heidi' game might have proved to be the latent curse that has kept the Jets without a championship since 1969.
And now we have the phrase 'reassuringly free of sweat' as Ms. Fox describes fashion advertising in the first half of the 20th-century, as she recounts the life of Deborah Turbeville, a fashion photographer who dramatically influenced the art from the 70s on, with somewhat grungy depictions of models.
Apparently, prior to Ms. Turbeville, models were unfailingly depicted almost as wax mannequins. They'd be in fashionable tennis clothes, holding a racquet as if they just went a set with Bille Jean King, and wouldn't show a bit of exertion. They were, 'reassuringly free of sweat.'
Perfect Madison Avenue. Americas love products, and we love to guard against perspiration. Europeans don't seem as obsessed with stains under their arms, but we seem to head for any product that promises to leave us 'reassuringly free of sweat.'
And at the same time Ms. Turbeville's life is being shared with us, and the era of being 'reassuringly free of sweat,' we have the World Series and the case of the Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester either using, or not using something illegal in his glove to add to the pitched ball to help fool the batters.
Mr. Lester's explanation is that it's resin in the glove because he sweats a lot and he needs something to help him grip the ball better and keep sweat off the ball. Resin is legal, and it's just that Jon apparently keeps it closer to himself so he doesn't have to bend down and use the rosin bag that sits on the back of the pitcher's mound. Why it looks green in the glove is a whole other story.
But apparently, there is some corroboration about Lester's sweating, even if it may not come from a completely independent source. The Red Sox second baseman, Dustin Pedroia says," I've played with Jon basically my whole professional career--he kind of sweats a lot, man. I know he loads up with resin all over the place. I don't even like going out there and telling him 'good job' and patting him on the back, because you get wet and stuff."
And there you have it. The pitcher may not be 'reassuringly free of sweat,' but the baseball is.
Madison Avenue still has work to do.