The Word is “Substitute”

Substitute, as a noun: a replacement, such as almond milk for dairy milk because fuck skim milk, it doesn’t do anything for the cow. A basketball player squelched to the benches unless his coach pries them off in a final moment of need. A surrogate father, a surrogate mother, a surrogate someone you never had or were deprived of and so found in someone else. A teacher who comes in for one day and one day only and—yes it’s a substitute we can get away with shit! And you watch Bill Nye the Science Guy the entire class period as the substitute taps away on their laptop.

Substitute, as a verb: use or in place of, such as swapping Miley Cyrus for Pink Floyd, fries for rice, soda for water. Someone covering my shift, replacing an atom with another, standing in as boss when they’re really just the deputy. Exchanging one family for a foreign one. Taking the place of someone’s best friend. In place of, never original, never initial, never the first. Always arriving later.

Substitute, in addendum: an understudy, not good enough to do it but good enough to be there. Good enough to take someone else’s place but not good enough to do it. Good enough to have a matinee showing but not good enough for an evening. No one wants to see an understudy when they paid for the original cast. No one wants a substitute teacher when they make them do work. No one wants a new best friend, but they’ll do it so they’re not lonely. An atom needs an atom needs an atom. You get homesick in a different country even if another family is nice enough to take you in, take you in, a substitute must take in new surroundings immediately, without warning or preparation. A substitute must always be prepared in their own way lest they be a fool. Get those lines down, be prepared for those basketball moves, weave through the opposing team even though you don’t get much practice at it unless you’re absolutely needed. Needed to replace, but not to win.

From Latin’s statuere, to set up. To set up a presence that exudes authority yet pales in comparison to the original. From Latin’s substituere, from Latin’s substitutus, to put in place of. Always representing something else but never the thing itself. Never wanted itself. “You’re not my dad!”—how many people have heard that and broke because yes, they’re not your dad, they’re not your dad but though they’re not flesh and blood they love you beyond the bounds of blood? Late Middle English gave us “substitute,” but not necessarily the connotation, or did it? A substitute car part, a substitute solution, a cry because it doesn’t work or a shout because it does. Does it ever make the original again, though?

Sub—as in a submarine, a subtraction, a sub-par meal.

Sti—as in stint, stilted, still. Sticky.

Tute—not sure. Tutor? Tutorial?

Substitute, sustituto, sostituto, փոխարինել, remplaçant, ersatz, υποκατάστατο, 代替, whakakapi, замена, bedel, vekil, thay thế, بدل.

Instead. Instead. Instead.



*Languages represented, in order: English, Spanish, Italian, Armenian, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Maori, Russian, Somali, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Arabic.

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