The Game of Zorch and Barrels

This is a story about how stories become, and about how words are adopted, and adapted, into private lexicons.

I was this morning talking with Lawrence M. Schoen about the possibility of including a piece I’d written for his Eating Authors blog in a new project he’s planning.  I agreed to the use, asking that a word that had been “corrected” for publication be put back to the original word provided by the author.  The “corrected’ word is “torches.”

The original word was “zorches.”

Lawrence agreed to the change, commenting that he had never heard the word — nor would it have done him any good if he had, as Websters defines “zorches” as moving at a velocity approaching lightspeed.

So much for Websters.

The real authority here is the late Gardner Dozois.  I’ll tell you why.

Back — ‘way back, when we were all Much Younger — Gardner was traveling to a con (aka, Science Fiction Convention), by car, late at night.  He had company in the car, in the form of some Clarion students.  It being late at night, the group was trying to stay awake — or at least to keep the driver awake — but conversation had flagged over the miles.

Just about then, the headlights picked up a line of orange cones in the left lane, ranged along the side of some sort of earth-moving project.  On the other side of the gap was a line of orange barrels.

The car passed on, but here were more cones, more barrels, always standing against each other, never with.  As the miles rolled away, it became clear that the carload of fans had come upon a major dispute between two opposing armies, who were each laying claim to the highway.

Mile after mile, the fans watch the drama unfold, narrating the events to each other.  It was discovered — somehow — that the cones — the Zorches, as they had come to be known — were the invaders, the Barrels the protectors of the highway.

Matters looked bad for the Barrels; though larger, they were outnumbered by the Zorch army.

Then, as the sky lightened, and the turnoff for the convention city loomed, the fans could see, just ahead, a long line of Barrels, and a scattering of orange impinging on the tarmac — the Zorches were down!  The Barrels had won!  The highway was safe!

Cheering, the fans were away, off the highway and into the city.  At the con, the story of the brave battle was recounted, and embellished, and was recounted at Clarion (so I’m told) as an example of how stories evolve from Real Life.

Steve and I, having heard the story separately, and then together, adopted the words “zorch” and “zorches.”  To this day, you can sometimes see the descendants of the survivors of this initial battle, now converted to the cause of the Barrels, guarding the edges of the highways.

And that’s what “zorches” means to me.

3 thoughts on “The Game of Zorch and Barrels”

  1. I work in construction, frequently encountering both Zorches and Barrels. I will never again see them the same way as I have done.

    So many words and phrases in my personal lexicon have been influenced by you. Thank you.

  2. What year was this? In high school a friend came up with zorch and told us it had four meanings, one of which he would never tell us. This would have been 1975-1976. One of the meanings was a frustration word. So if something went wrong we would say “oh zorch!” Don’t remember the other meanings though.

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