The Beauty and Majesty of Crestfallen
Crestfallen. Sounds like either one of these expansive online video games or a mystical world with weird, winged creatures. Oddly, it could even be both. But it’s neither of those things.
Per the Cambridge Dictionary: disappointed and sad because of having failed unexpectedly.
There aren’t many words that give me the feels the way crestfallen does. As the kids say, “It hits different.”
Mind you, I’m not smart enough (if at all) to break this word down like an academic so I’ll stay away from that. And if that’s what you’re looking…move on.
Personally, I think it’s a beautiful word. The way it sounds isn’t musical and that’s probably not its intention. Really, it’s very poetic. It’s lyrical. It sort of dances with every letter and every syllable. At least, it does when I say it. Visually, I love the way it’s constructed with its mix of peaks and valleys and circular and angular. Even in various fonts, crestfallen, just works.
I will admit that it’s pretty weird to look at a word and find it attractive. They’re just a series of lines and curves and yet this certain combination of letters and their placement makes one want to put the word in a frame and hang it in a museum for people to pay to stare at, daring them to make their own interpretation beyond its schoolbook definition. Mind you, I’m not saying that throwing together a combination of letters just to look visually appealing is the appeal. That doesn’t make a word. But it’s amazing that the way these particular letters come together to make a visual masterpiece.
This isn’t meant to be weird (you know the moment someone says or writes that, it’s going to be totally weird) and I don’t blame you for thinking so (see what I mean?) after having read me describing a word as “attractive” only seconds ago. But it is. Attractive, that is.
Also, look at the words crest and fallen. What a duo. It’s up there with the all-time greats. Lennon and McCartney. Peanut butter and chocolate. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes. All of them are Hall of Fame worthy. What makes it even more so is that they’re two words mashed together with two diametrically opposed meanings. “Crest” makes me think of rising or the peak, while “fallen” is, well, having dropped from a point. It’s sort of like an oxymoron. It’s not the traditional oxymoron example like jumbo shrimp. That’s for irony. Crestfallen takes you to the highest of the highs and then immediately to the lowest of lows. That’s a Tolkienesque journey in three syllables. What a story that is. But it’s not the genius of the word that I find fascinating. There’s simply a beauty to the word. There are many more examples, I’m sure, but I challenge you to find one with two words colliding to form something so elegant.
The odd part of having such an opinion on the word is that it’s not at all very positive. As beautiful as it may sound, crestfallen is actually meant to communicate feeling pretty shitty. Perhaps that’s what I see as so attractive about the word. Crestfallen is how you feel after having not just been disappointed but extremely disappointed. It’s a better version of saying, “heartbroken”, which feels very Hallmark Channel-y, and there’s a weight to it that communicates feeling shitty far better than “deflated” or “devastated”, which feel like hipster coffee house open mic poetry-like and cringy teen drama-like respectively. And let me tell you that crestfallen is way cooler to say than, “crushed”, which feels like it should be followed up by a middle school ass kicking.
Have I been crestfallen? Oh, most certainly.
Getting declined for a job that I had actually gotten to interview for and thinking I had it in the bag? That’s pretty fucking crestfallen. One of my favorite sports teams getting eliminated when they were so close to a championship? That’s absolutely crestfallen. Falling short of a loved one’s expectations? Yes, crestfallen to the nth degree.
I don’t even really remember where I had first seen the word though it’s likely from something I’ve read. Might have been that really early point in my life where I tried to read books and texts that were way above my personal comprehension but I was driven by my want to read them just so I could say that I did. That was my weak pre-teen flex. You’ve beaten me many times, Picture of Dorian Gray! I will best you some day!
Additionally, crestfallen isn’t the type of word that would be uttered on television, even if the show was some period piece. Downtown Abbey, I could totally see it. Others? The Big Bang Theory. Maybe. Law & Order and its many offspring? Not possible. Could you see it used in one of the Marvel MCU movies? Highly unlikely.
Then again, who actually talks like that?
I actually tried to find opportunities to use it in conversation. Once, with a co-worker as we talked about another co-worker who had just broken up with her boyfriend, I dared use the word. The woman we spoke about was a zombie at work. She would stand at the fax machine (this is more of indication of how old the story is and not how archaic the company was) and just stare at it until the humming and whirring ended and it rewarded her patience by printing out her confirmation page. She would then just march back to her desk without looking at anyone. Once, someone caught her crying in the conference room. So I said to my co-worker as we were literally standing next to the water cooler (yes we were really by the water cooler), “Yeah, she’s really crestfallen since being dumped” to which my co-worker flashed me a look that went from inspection to analysis to judgement. I felt like she was either thinking, “what the hell is crestfallen?” or “You arrogant asshole”. My paranoia pulled me to the latter rather than the former.
Needless to say, I stopped trying to work the word into any form of conversation. It made me feel like an arrogant English professor who smoked from a pipe and wore a sport coat that had those odd patches on the elbows. Instead, there would be days where I would either be writing or needing a word to truly describe how I was feeling. Then, as if floating in from the sky as if dropped down from the Gods, came crestfallen.
So you’re thinking, “Why the F does he love this word so much?”
And you’d be perfectly fine in asking such a question.
I’m not some masochist, though based off of this small sample size I could see how you’d come to such a conclusion. Oftentimes there is a “good” that comes from being crestfallen.
One of my favorite John Lennon songs (whether it was with the Beatles or his solo work) is Woman, from his Double Fantasy album. If you’ve somehow never heard it, I suggest you give it a listen. Better yet, catch the YouTube video that gives you the lyrics along with the song! He’s essentially reaffirming his love for his wife who has been beside him despite all of his failings and shortcomings.
“Woman, I know you understand the little child inside the man. Please remember, my life is in your hands.”
From the pain that has come from him being this crazy, complex person who happens to be one of the biggest artists in the world despite being away from the game for some time…is the realization that he’s caused this immense pain in someone who’s, not just crushed, they’re—you guessed it—crestfallen.
In many ways, the light that comes to Lennon after causing such disappointment is his own realization of a source of love that he’s overlooked or taken for granted. It’s here—after a period of being lost, overlooking what’s meaningful, and being blind to what he’s been blessed with—where he emerges from being crestfallen and finds solace, which, by the way, is the runner-up in my view of best word ever. In the world of competitive sports where you’ve worked your entire life and sacrificed so much, I’m sure solace, coming in second place, was crestfallen.