burning bright


First Fig
Edna St. Vincent Millay
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
It gives a lovely light!

Photo (c) 2009 gfpeck used under Creative Commons license.



Yesterday I saw a headline that mentioned something like “learning about the secret lives of our ancestors”. It prompted me to think about how often the word “secret” is used, and how once whatever ‘secret’ is divulged, the secret ceases to exist. We’ve just revealed it by stating that whatever follows was once secret. I read a lot of articles in which the writer cites his/her secret love for something, e.g. something like, “My secret love for all things pony”. Yes, perhaps it was a secret until you put it in writing for the world to read. (I am sure I have been guilty of using “secret” this way, too, but the fact that it irks me isn’t new.)

And is the word ‘secret’ always appropriate? That is, aren’t the lives of long-gone predecessors unknown, forgotten or even hidden by time or history rather than secret? Doesn’t the hidden information within a secret – at least the way we use it in modern language – imply intent to keep it hidden?