An Otiose Revisited.

It would be several years ago that a Facebook friend mentioned the word ‘otiose’. Now those of you steeped in the English language will know that this is not only an adjective, but a noun. For there is an animal called an otiose, and it is, as the name suggests, otiose.

This is what the Oxford English Dictionary has to say on the matter:

Otiose – Serving no practical purpose or result.
‘there were occasions when I felt my efforts were rather otiose’

(archaic) Indolent or idle.

And no mention of my beastie!

At the time my friend mentioned that he felt otiose, I actually found one at the Natural History Museum in Tilburg in the Netherlands, and was able to photograph it for him. The point being that otioses are relatively difficult to find, but once found, are easy to photograph. Mainly on account of the fact that they are, well, otiose.

Now it has to be said that finding an otiose in a museum would be easy, if for the only reason that they aren’t exactly speedy. The main problem being in enquiring after the thing if one has been stupid enough to forget the Latin name for the beastie. You see, there is a lack of descriptive words in the Dutch language; the only passable one being ‘Luiard’, that is to say, ‘Lazy’ or otherwise, ‘Sloth’. Well, we know what a sloth is, don’t we? And an otiose is quite different from a sloth. What’s more, a sloth is an Olympic sprinter when compared to an otiose. There are the words ‘traagheid’ and ‘vadsigheid’ but both of these suggest an alacrity that the otiose does not possess.

By the time I had reached the second storey of the museum, there was no sign of my otiose. And then it struck me: an otiose is unsettled by the sheer speed of the sun’s rising. In a public place like a museum, lights are switched on and off without warning. Such an event, repeated over the space of several months would leave the animal needing psychiatric treatment for the resulting damage to its nerves.

When I had an otiose, and yes, I did possess one, it was given to me by my tutor at university who found the thing too skittish. He’d not been able to tolerate the thought that the animal might move. That it didn’t made no difference: it might move, and that was the problem. Only on accepting the beast into my own charge, I discovered on closer inspection that it had a moth hole on its rump. Enquiries with my tutor led to the realization that he’d been given it and the stuffed animal to the university’s Museum of Natural History.

Nobody had noticed that the real one had been put under a glass dome whilst the stuffed animal was sitting in the corner of a professor’s panelled office. It has to be said that neither animal came to any serious injury.

The stuffed animal had its rump darned and the real one was taken home by me on the bus. I cuddled it inside my coat on that winter’s day long ago. This was also to protect its eyes as it might have been shocked when it looked out of the window of the bus we were travelling on. I did ask if I needed to buy it a half ticket for my otiose, but the conductor said that there was no charge for an animal that could sit on my lap.

Thus it was that the animal finally came to stay with me at my home.

So, there I was with my otiose, who by now had acquired the name ‘Rupert’. Quite why this name came to mind is beyond me, but it could have something to do with ‘a quiet corner of the world that is forever England’. This was a demonstration of my poor education in English literature, as the correct quote by Rupert Brooke runs thus: “That there’s some corner of a foreign field. That is for ever England.” It could have been that the animal was found in a quiet corner of the museum’s basement.

There was, however, the task of removing the painted white patch which bore poor Rupert’s inventory number. This didn’t take very long, washing an otiose presents no great difficulties given the lack of protest on its part.

But I did have to be very careful of Rupert’s habits. It took me several weeks of temptation to discover that he ate common catfood. I had almost given up feeding the poor beast by this point, having tempted it with any number of delicacies. Roquefort cheese did get him to wrinkle his nose – the only movement he made that day, save for his opening his eyes somewhere around eleven that morning. Mind you, even this is unusual for an otiose, they can remain still for inordinate lengths of time, and can happily sleep with their eyes open.

After three hours, my otiose had cleared the teaspoon. Dealing with an otiose is extremely demanding on the mind: the regulated slowness of its movements demands competence in Zen meditation or a senior position at a university.

However, the next Thursday it took a sniff at the catfood and made an expression – if one can call the lifting of one eyebrow – in a show of distaste. Back to the fridge: bacon, baked beans (the staple of any student) steak and kidney pie, fish soup and grilled fillet of sole were all brought up to my bedroom to tempt him. Other than the smallest movement of the nose at the fish soup, there was nothing to tell me if the beast was interested or not.

It took me months to learn that the animal was actually a vegetarian. Indeed, the lack of sufficient study with the animal in the wild meant that a study such as this was actually a genuinely new piece of research. It was on learning this that the Zoology department immediately offered me a doctoral study on the strength of this alone. That is to say, the patience that I had shown with the animal that had driven other zoologists to distraction – in and out of the wild. However, on discovering that I was a physics student who lacked the appropriate certification in biology meant that their offer was withdrawn with the swiftness with which it was offered. I can imagine them wondering how a physicist could even possess an interest in zoology.


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