Monday, September 7, 2015

LMJ Word of the week - voussoir

Continuing my storytelling through looking for le mot juste....

We all know about the keystone, and how important it is.  The top stone in the arch, the piece that holds everything together, it is even (inexplicably) translated as "cornerstone" in some ancient texts.

The keystone is important - I agree.  The fascinating element of the arch is the piece that is under the most pressure to perform.  Pressure from both sides, equally distributed, the keystone brings to my mind the image of Samson pushing at the columns of the Philistine temples. 

Furthermore, our eyes naturally gravitate upwards (OK, maybe gravity is not the best word...), seeing the sweeping line of the opening, focusing on the symmetrical piece that pushes the two walls apart.  The beautiful keystone, perfectly cut, perfectly fitted, perfectly symmetrical.

And yet, the image is a little bit wrong.  An arch, after all, is more than just two vertical pieces and a horizontal piece.  The other side pieces lean in, pushing on the keystone.  What is happening is more like a reverse tug-of-war, with each piece multiplying the force of the one behind, adding pressure that will keep the keystone up.

The foundation blocks at the bottom of the arch - the springers - are important.   The keystone is of critical importance.

My rendition of an arch.  Voussoirs in yellow.
But the voussoir - each of the trapezoidal stones that form the transition between the two, those are the most often forgotten pieces in the arch.  These blocks make the dangerous move of leaning out of plumb, taking the chance of failure.  While the keystone is held on the sidelines until the critical moment, the voussoir take all of the risk.

And in the end, everyone marvels at the beauty of the whole arch, and look at that keystone!

My job - my career - is that of voussoir.  Yours is very likely the same.  We support the ones who get the glory.  We push, and take risks, and run a real chance of going SPLAT.  We step on the ledge, pushing the center of gravity over the edge, trusting that eventually the other side will support us; hoping that the other side is being built in the same way as we are.

And like the second level in a cheerleading pyramid, we take the risks without getting to fly.

Interestingly, the keystone is a specific voussoir.  Just one more wedge-shaped stone, carefully made to fit together with other equally carefully made stones. 

Yes. I am carefully made.

The corbeled vault is simply not as cool.
 Nothing but flat blocks everywhere.
And my function is important. 

My job, then, is important - to keep pushing out.  Keep stepping on the ledge.  Keep reaching for the other side. 

Today's definition: Voussoir - (n; pl. voussoirs - ) one of any wedge-shaped blocks used in forming an arch.  

The verb form (intransitive) is voussoired.... Or at least, it should be.

Let's go voussoir the hell out of life. Together.   Holding each other up.  Supporting each other.  Leaning in.


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