Tag Archives: literature

Word # 7 – Detritus

It has become apparent to me that I need to change what I call these little vocabulary lessons because “Word of the Week” is definitely misleading.  I have no idea what to call it.  How about “Random Vocabulary by Crystal?”  Haha! I’m just kidding…  But seriously, any ideas???



“… Good intentions buried in the detritus of daily life.”

Again, I draw another word from my beloved Nicholas Sparks.  I apologize to those of you who don’t care for Sparks’ work or believe I am cheating in some way by “stealing” words from his books.  Mr. Sparks is a writer who desires other writers to read his work.  He has a page for writers on his website and has published workbook versions of some of his novels that include reading guides, character studies, and vocabulary lessons.  I don’t think he minds that I use his words.  In fact, I think he would encourage it.

The above quote comes, again, from Sparks’ book, The Choice (2007, p.135).  This was another word I was not yet familiar with, which is why I marked it for future review when I re-read the book this Summer.  When I read it, the word seemed to mean something along the lines of routine, mundane , or clutter.  I was close but not exactly correct.

noun \di-ˈtrī-təs\

The Oxford Dictionary defines detritus as, “waste or debris of any kind; organic matter produced by the decomposition of organisms.”  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says detritus is “the pieces that are left when something breaks, falls apart, or is destroyed.”

The quote from Sparks’ book took on a new meaning for me once I looked up the definition of detritus.  I thought the character was discussing how her busy routine was getting in the way of the things she wished she could do – her hobbies, for instance.  I wasn’t exactly dead-on.  What she was pointing out was the waste in her life, the crap that gets in the way of her happiness.  The text takes on a much more serious tone now that I know what it means.

Ashes, remains, residue, wreckage, crap, debris, froth, refuse, rubbish, scrap, fumes, waste, scum, garbage, junk, and rubble.

The origin is arguably from the Latin detritus. Note, it’s spelled the same in English.  Surprisingly enough, it is also spelled exactly the same in French, which the Oxford Dictionary argues is the root of its 18th Century origin.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says the first known use of the word was in 19th Century France (in the year 1802).

We all struggle with detritus – the debris that clogs up our lives, the crap that gets in the way.  I am especially guilty of letting those little tidbits of silt fill up my time to the point that it increases my anxiety and distracts from what should be more important.

I have struggled with anxiety my whole life.  Those who are more “easy-going” (my boyfriend included) tell me to just calm down and ignore it.  When he catches me nibbling at the corners of my fingernails he always knows I have something on my mind.  I have a tendency to focus on little things that eat at me until they seem much more important than they really are – to the point that I will obsess over the problem until it’s resolved or another bigger problem takes its place.  All of these little…. annoyances make up the detritus of my life, and they produce more detritus by causing me to push things aside that I would love to pay more attention to (my blog, for example).  Thus, a lot of things I would love to enjoy get “buried in the detritus of daily life,” like the book said.

All forms of production produce waste.  For every product there is a byproduct.  When you’re productive, no matter what you’re producing, there will always be detritus.  How do you decide your priorities?  How do you separate the important stuff from the crap?  There’s a certain amount of crap we must all endure in order to get what or where we want.  We put up with crap at work.  I know I certainly do, probably more than most.  At what point do you allow the crap to land in the “crap bin,” as opposed to your lap?  What methods do you use to discern the product from the detritus?

When I was doing my research for this post I noticed one of the online dictionaries asks readers why they looked up that  particular word.  One man posted that he had been cleaning out his friend’s apartment after the friend’s death.  Many of the books and trinkets that seemed to mean so much to the friend early in his life were covered in dust and the man thought it such a waste.  He wondered at what point the important things had taken the back seat in his friend’s life.  Ironically enough, I watched the move “The Big Chill” last night.  (It was on the free On Demand movies.)  My boyfriend kept reminding me it was a character study.  He also taught me that “Alex” (the dead friend) was “played” by Kevin Costner.  (If you’ve seen the movie you know that you never see Alex’s face, only his body.)  The story is about a group of college friends who haven’t seen much of each other in years, until one of their friends kills himself and they all get together for his funeral.  They spend the weekend pondering why their friend died and looking closely at their own lives.  They all seem to have something missing.  They all seem so “busy” with their lives away from each other, but when looking closer, much of their lives are filled with crap that doesn’t matter -detritus.

Again, I draw back to my “Epitaph” post.  What will be left of you when you’re gone?  Will people see the product of your life or will the byproduct overshadow product?  My hope is that my worth will outweigh the rubbish.

Until next time…

Detritus. Dictionary.Cambridge.org. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/british/detritus

Detritus. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/detritus

Detritus. (n.d.). OxfordDictionaries.com. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/detritus

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