Lexie Kahn and the Terrible Terrorist

“Brrrring!” The sharp ringing startled me out of a dream of the touch of soft breezes and the scent of warm butter. I grabbed my iPhone, but the old-fashioned clanging was coming from the bedside landline, an antique replica. As I grabbed for the receiver, my arm movements were mirrored by someone lifting the hand piece of the kitchen phone. C.J. The butter wasn’t just a dream. He was making breakfast.

I cleared my throat. “Lexie Kahn. What’s the word?”

“Ms. Kahn, my name is Billy Boyd. I’m covering for Amira; she’s on another assignment.”

What was Ms. Big up to now? I wondered. “Yes, Mr. Boyd. What can I do for you?”

“My employer needs a hand with terrorism.”

“I’m on it,” I said, firing up the laptop. “We are talking about etymology; right?”

“Yes.”

“Good, because I pulled a muscle in my bomb-throwing arm. Okay, here we go: terrorist entered English from French terroriste in the 1790s.”

“French Revolution? Reign of Terror?”

‘You got it. In 1795 Edmund Burke wrote in Letters on a Regicide Peace, “Thousands of those Hell-hounds called Terrorists..are let loose on the people.”

“What about the root, terror?”

“Also from French, but from way back. It’s from Anglo-Norman terrour and it appeared in English at least as early as 1325. French got it from classical Latin terror, ‘fact or quality of inspiring dread, person or thing that causes dread, extreme fear.’ And that’s from terrēre ‘to frighten,’ which is also the source of terrible and terrific.” That pair of words, like awful and awesome, went from being synonyms to antonyms. In the 17th century terrific meant inspiring terror or awe in a scary way. By the 18th century it just meant very big and by the late 19th, it meant excellent.”

“Well, that’s just terrific, Ms. Kahn. My employer will be pleased.” There was a click.

I joined C.J. in the kitchen where he had split a beautiful omelet onto two plates. We were both thinking the same thing: Ms. Big is too late for a third-party run. What could she have in mind? “Secretary of State!” we said in unison.

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