The Land of the Free and the Very . . .

By Steve Carr

I spent the Independence Day holiday in Sun Valley this year. With its rodeos, parades, fireworks, Asian rug sales, live bands, egg tosses, and slippery slides, I challenge you to find a more all-American place to spend America’s birthday. Okay, I pretty much just described every town in Idaho—if I leave out the Persian rugs.

Even as the 4th of July activities were in full swing, I searched the counter top at my brother’s home for the sunscreen I knew would be supplied there. Among several bottles, one caught my eye: “Very Emollient,” it proclaimed in burnt umber letters on an orange bottle. That sold me, and I applied the cream very liberally to my face. Feeling very ebullient, for it was, after all a holiday, I then wondered about the meaning of “emollient.” It made intuitive sense to me at some level, but I was sure I couldn’t quite define it.

Feeling a little stupid but with sufficiently sturdy self-esteem, I carried the sunscreen to the next room, full of adults with advanced degrees, and asked who could define “emollient” for me. Yes, you guessed where this is going, and you’re right. Despite a lot of hemming and hawing and some erudite-sounding attempts at remembering root words and origins, no one could give me a satisfactory definition.

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