Uxorious. It’s a word, trust me. A word we don’t use much in everyday speech, and totally removed from that other word we do use a lot — luxurious. No connection whatsoever. Before I knew what the word meant, if I were given a multiple choice test: Which of the following most closely describes ‘uxorious’ — a) a seven-star apartment (b) pertaining to the polar bear during hibernation (c) the botanical term for fenugreek, or (d) a man who dotes on his wife — I’d have gone for (c) because, in multiple choice, we’ve come to suspect, a high percentage of the correct answers tend to be (c). So the motto ‘When in doubt, choose C’ would have been my ‘go to’ response.
Of course, had I known the answer, I’d have circled (d) straight away. But on first reading, the definition for (d) seems so farfetched. Especially if you live in close proximity to a couple who reach for the boxing gloves as soon as they’ve rubbed the sleep out of their eyes.
Boxing gloves is used euphemistically, of course. But the fact is that the sparring begins at the crack of dawn. He can’t abide her and she, likewise, cannot conjure up the terms ‘abide’ and ‘husband’ in the same sentence.
Over a period of time they’ve perfected their ‘shouting duets’. In the beginning, as I’ve been told by the neighbour on their right, they used to scream at each other in unison. I guess it’s fair to say that if you’ve been screaming with somebody else for ten years one is bound to perfect a screaming routine.
What ten years of continuous screaming also does, however, is take the wind out of your sails, after which one tends to scream conservatively. So these days, while their apartment walls don’t exactly shake rattle & roll, they are constantly rumbling. The fighting and bickering now calls to mind the incessant simmering, sub-volatile activity just below an earthquake’s fault lines.
Occasionally, one will hear a plate smash — and on looking up the calendar discover that, no, this is not a Greek feast about to happen. This is in argument in progress in Apartment 8 and some innocent dinner plate has copped someone’s fury.
Once there was a slightly prolonged session of glass fracturing and shattering with its familiar — easy-on-the-ear — tinkling. It took two days to discover that a series of framed photographs (or university certificates) had been ‘unframed’. The damaged and never-to-be-used-again frames (along with the swept-up glass fragments, collected in plastic waste bags) were found in the common garbage bins outside our set of apartments.
“Used to be a time, 15-16 years ago when the two of them were inseparable,” the neighbour on the other side tells me. His name is Parker. Not Nosy Parker, of course, although one might be inclined to think that, given how much attention he pays to the goings-on in Apartment 8. No doubt, Parker means ‘inseparable’ in a nice, loving way. “Yes, of course,” he confirms, “he was the husband I wanted to be. Only, I’ve been a bachelor all my life. Marriage wasn’t and isn’t for me. But if I did ... er, marry, I’d have wanted to be him. In those early days. And if I wa ... er, a woman, I’d have wanted to be her. There was nothing she didn’t ask for that he didn’t go out and get her. If she wanted the moon, I kid you not, he’d have somehow befriended Armstrong and cadged a lift on that Apollo mission, only to show how far he’d go.” “There must be a word for men like that,” I remember saying. “There is,” replied Parker, “Uxorious. That was him, back then.” I wonder if uxorious has an opposite and if so what can it be? Un-uxorious sounds quite ... manufactured. No, it’s got to be a word that’s as spontaneous as ... an everyday argument. It just could be a word waiting to be coined.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.