Lady Charlotte Finch had a brainwave. Marooned in Buckingham House, before it became a palace, the governess supervised a dozen royal heirs, her brood ranging from nappies to pimples. This was 1760, the original home schooling, as Lady Cha (her fond nickname) enabled future monarchs to read and write.
Grasp geography too, thanks to a map fetched from the stationery cupboard. “See the pink bits? Your daddy – King George III – owns them.” Though the children were quick to yawn, as any home teacher will vouch. Owning America was spiffing, but what’s the point if you’re trapped inside all day? So Lady Cha grabbed the scissors.
David Astle knows the importance of puzzles as diversions in difficult times.Credit:Jo Gay
Africa, Asia, even the Arctic – nothing was spared her blades. The governess snipped the five oceans. She split the Indies, made a royal mess of Patagonia. She called the exercise Dissected Maps, jumbling the world into a blizzard for the princelings to fix.
Since then, jigsaws have been a staple of indoor life. If home-baked sourdough is not the lockdown totem, then jigsaws run close, a logo above the ribboned slogan: “You’re on mute.” There’s something satisfying about deriving order (and Swiss chalets) out of chaos, for want of an equivalent transition in public life.
Lady Cha’s confetti, of course, has evolved into the tracery of factory lasers, reducing a boulevard to 500 pieces – or 499 in the case of pre-loved sets. Technical terms apply to the smithereens too, from the sticky-out bits (or tabs) and their corresponding indentations, or blanks.
Hobbyists favour other labels for the tab-blank marriage. Some I’ll leave to your one-track mind, while cuter couplings include innie-outie, loop-pocket, key-locket, bump-socket plus the carpentry motif of interjambs. Yet there remains a nagging gap in the picture, namely an agreed identifier for the jigsaw solver.
Despite my research, I failed to find a consensus term for the soul attempting to restore an autumnal oak from a boxful of cardboard scree. What do we call this person, aside from the cumbersome jigsaw solver? Or plain old jigawer. On Twitter, I consulted the crowd.
Suggestions ranged from puzzler to jigseer, from interlocker to matchmaker, from dissectologist to shape-shifter, from tessellator to piecemaker. Dave Williams, a UK crossworder, floated cartomosaicist, while Izzy Tolhurst fashioned the portmanteau of sawlver. Fittingly, nothing clicked. The gap persisted. What do we call someone devoted to rebuilding Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, the azure domes of Santorini?
Single, tweeted Dean Mayer, and cyberspace chuckled. But I protest. As much as I loved the quip, I know there’s a jigsaw-doer in all of us, whether we traffic in knobs and sockets, or tackle kindred problems. Daily we pick up the pieces, determined to salvage wonder from the pandemonium.
What is the word for a jigsaw puzzler like Jasmine Webb, asks David Astle?
As language users, that battle never rests. Every waking hour we rummage the brainbox for the right piece in the right position, even when that word’s not there. Such a gap plagued TV writer Adam Zwar recently, when he shared online: “I’ve lost the energy to be angry about everything.”
Was there a word for that? Was it reachable or did it need inventing? Again the crowd, like jigsaw kibitzers, offered pieces of their minds. Lexicographers, feel free to snaffle melancaholic (from Graham Kidd) or lethangry (Rupert Morrish), disenraged or vexhausted. Though the anointed neologism was exhaustipated, being too tired to give a shit.
Lady Charlotte Finch may well roll her eyes, but she hasn’t lived the bedlam of the last 18 months. Mind you, for a woman of refinement to reduce the world to ticker tape, I’d say she has the wherewithal to see the full picture.
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