Usurp is a verb meaning to take power or control of something by force, or without the right to do so. It’s one of those vaguely old-fashioned words that I never use, but recognize when I read it in a sentence. I looked up the definition to make sure I had it right, having only previously gleaned its meaning from the context I found it in. I don’t think I’ve ever had occasion to use the word. I’m pretty sure I’ve never said it out loud. Still, its pronunciation – yoo-serp – is exactly how I expected it would be.
That’s unlike some words that I’ve learned through reading, where my idea of how a word should be spoken is wildly different from the correct sound of it. The trouble with that is that I get in the habit of thinking of it in one way. Even after I know better, I have to do the translation in my head. “Erbs,” I think to myself, “oh, they are talking about herbs.” Even though I am wise enough, now, to know better than to pronounce the H, I still privately think of the word that way. And I get a little satisfaction from hearing Martha Stewart boldly say “herbs,” as if she has a backup group of guys, all named Herbert, waiting just off stage.
Anyway, having gone through and rejected several dozen UN words (from UN-appreciated to UN-witting, all seemed a little negative), I had pretty much decided that my “U” topic would be uniforms. Which I could manage a few paragraphs about, though, as topics go, it was not overly exciting. Then, “usurp” came to me in the middle of the night.
It was two o’clock in the morning, actually, when I woke up to notice that Rosa Parks, who usually sleeps beside me, had taken over my pillow. She was sprawled out on it just as she often is in the middle of the day when she has that space all to herself. Not at night, when my head is resting there. “What the hell,” I thought, and nudged her off. Rather than settling back in to her usual spot, she walked along the edge of the bed all the way to my feet, jumped down to the floor, and went to the door.
When I got up to let the little dog outside, I noticed that her regular spot in the bed was occupied. Sometime in the night, Blackie Chan had moved from his position behind my knees right up to shoulder level where Rosa Parks usually sleeps. Hmmm….curious. When Rosa Parks came back in, I went back to bed. That’s when I got a clearer picture of what was going on.
Each time that Rosa Parks made a move to get back up on the bed, sweet little Blackie Chan let out a long, vicious-sounding growl. “What is this?” I asked, and he gave me a little tail-wag, a tiny smile, and an offer to show me his belly. Rosa Parks ventured one paw on the bed, and Blackie Chan’s growl came back. “It’s okay,” I told the snarling boy; he quieted until his sister tried to get up again. “It’s okay,” I told Rosa Parks, but she kept her eye on her brother, and didn’t take the chance. This went on for awhile.
Finally, I got up and lifted Rosa Parks onto the bed. I gave her a position on the other side of me, with my body separating the two sparring siblings. They both went back to sleep. By that time, I was wide awake. Thinking. Rosa Parks usurped the position on my pillow that was usually reserved for my head…because Blackie Chan had usurped her position on the bed. Who could sleep with all of that power-grabbing going on? Too much usurpation!