Latin Maxims I
Latin Maxims II
Latin Maxims III
Latin Maxims IV
Cowell's Interpreter I
Cowell's Interpreter II
Feal and Divot I
Feal and Divot II
Peddlers and Others I
Peddlers and Others II
Fine and Dandy I
Fine and Dandy II
Folling, Bummers, et al.
Frowzled and Frowsy
Hypergamy et al.
Explode and Imposition
Pixie and Pixilated
Cornage and Culliage
Restringe and Laxative
Miso- (Hatred of)
Nictitate II (Nabokov)
The Kiss of Peace
Loose Ends (on Kissing)
Prink and Quiz
Words for Intoxication
Piffle and Witter
Harangue et al.
Bill Long 3/3/06
Leaving the Safe Confines of the Thesaurus
My original plan in writing this essay was to list the synonyms for "exhausted" that appear in Merriam Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms and then launch into an exposition of two really old but wonderfully attractive words dealing with exhaustion: ramfeezled and forswunk. I want to get to these latter terms, but first I need to tell you how I got stuck on exhaustion. Synonyms for exhaust (v.) are--"drain, deplete, impoverish, bankrupt, sap, undermine, weaken, consume, absorb, engross, monopolize, dissipate, disperse, dispel, scatter." Another definition lists "fatigue, jade, weary, tire, fag, tucker." With all these words, why have two more, and two more that are so old? Let's get to their stories by first stopping on exhaust for a moment.
Modern-day English tends to collapse the wonderful "tent" of a word so that each word must have one or, at most, two definitions. Thus, when we use the verb "exhaust," we are thinking about being tired. Yet, the Latin word behind the term is exhaurire means "to draw off or out." In fact, we have a 1683 attestation of exhauriate in English, meaning to "draw out or forth,"--"Powerfully exhauriates Serous Humors." Thus we can understand how the first meaning of exhaust listed in the OED is "to draw off or out." Shakespeare uses it in this way: "The Babe, Whose dimpled smiles from Fooles exhaust their mercy." Or, from 1632: "Your thankless Cruelty, and Savage Manners...Exhaust these Floods (of tears)." One of the first usages, in a statute from 1540, uses the word in a precise form: "Innumerable summes of monei, crafteli exhausted (i.e., drawn off) out of this realme." So, the original meaning of exhaust was not to use (something) up completely or to consume (it) entirely but simply to draw off or draw away a substance (such as air, water, money) or a reaction (such as Shakespeare's mercy).
By the time of John Locke, however (ca. 1700), the "modern" meaning of exhaust had come to the fore. I suppose the concept gradually expanded from drawing off some of the liquid or air to a complete depletion of the substance. "Though the knowledge they have left us be worth our study, yet they exhausted not all its treasures." Or, from one of Pope's essays in 1709: "Here point your thunder, and exhaust your rage!" Or, from 1786: "Whatever relief was given..the same was soon exhausted." Though I have no brief against the modern use of "exhaust," I would like to keep the possibilities for its older use open. Thus, exhaust would have a similar meaning to evoke or call forth, though the emphasis on the process of drainage or sucking a liquid off of a surface would come to the fore.
Now, however, we are ready for the older terms to describe tiredness. The Century tells us that the word ramfeezle, meaning "fatigue" or "exhaust" is of Scottish origin, and gives the following lines from Burns as an illustration of its use:
"My awkward muse said pleads and begs I would na write.
The tapetless ramfeezl'd hizzie,
She's saft at best, and something lazy."
Tapetless, for those who want to know, means "senseless." But rather than interring ramfeezled along with tons of other faded Scotch terms, let's attempt to bring it back. We do so if we understand part of its origin. The Century points us to the third definition of "ram," which is derived from Scandanavian languages and means "strong" or "very." Thus a "ramshackle" building is a "shack" which is about ready to fall down. A "rambustious" person is one who is uproarious, though the distinction between "boisterous" and "rambustious" is probably not as clear as between a "shack" and "ramshackle." Thus, someone who is "ramfeezled" is completely exhausted, even though I know of no use of the word "feezle." The only "feezles" on Google are surnames of people (Feezle's Auto Wrecking from PA was one) or names of Trolls. Did you know that Feezle is a troll a little over 4' tall, while Dweezle comes in a 3 1/2'? Well, now you do.
The two examples provided by the OED of this word are very old indeed. From 1250: "If heo ofte a swote for swunke were," and from 1589: "Sith swaines forswonke, and so forswat..." Neither of these makes much sense to me, but the Century tells us that both forswunk and forswonk are past participles of forswink, which was used by Spenser to mean "exhaust by labor," even though this isn't attested in the OED. But we can take things much further if we realize that "for" is, like "ram," an intensifier and that "swink" to mean "labor, toil, work hard," was attested in English as early as Beowulf.
As early as 1300 we have catchy alliterations, as when one source talks about Adam's "suanc and suet" in the Garden of Eden. Or, from a catchy poem of Audelay in 1426: "Let me never in slouth stynke, Bot grawnt me grace for to swynke." Because of the example of Adam, we humans are said to "swincke and sweat," and later appearances of swink put it also with "moil," so one's labor is "swink and moil" (1748), which itself soon grew into "moil and toil." And, as the OED informs us, the prefix "for," which means many, many things in English, also expresses "the notion of something done in excess or so as to overwhelm or overpower." So someone who is "forbeft" is baffled; "forebolned" is puffed up, "forchafed" is overheated, "forfried" is "too much fried," "forfrighted" is greatly terrified and "forladen" is overloaded. Thus, a person who is "forswunk" is overborne by labor, and hence exhausted.
Well, all this emphasis on exhaustion has tuckered me out. And, this was the first time I looked up the phrase "tucker out." Apparently it is a regionalism, originating in New England in the 1840s, and then becoming a part of the language shortly thereafter. So, I will close with two quotations from my New England forebears, first from Lowell, and then from Howells (and Howell's quotation is from Lady of the Aroostook, and you can't get any more "New Englandy" than that).
"Hard word is good an' wholesome, past all doubt;
But 'taint so ef the mind gits tuckered out."
"She's tired to death--quite tuckered, you know."
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long