Words Expressing Bodily Motions
Bill Long 4/7/06
Starting with Jactitate
If you just take enough time and have a desire to learn, you can master the English language in its fullness and richness. But, you need patience and a willingness to "read, mark, and inwardly digest" what you find. Let's try to do that today, selecting useful but not frequently-used words for bodily motions.
The Latin word underlying "jactitate" is "jactare," which means to "throw, toss about, discuss, or boast of." When coming into English the word has three significations: (1) a sort of tossing about of the person, either gently or rather violently; (2) a tossing about of ideas back and forth; or (3) a false or boasting declaration, at law, tending to some one's detriment. In the first signification we have, from the late 17th century: "Jactations...help or occasion Sleep, as we find by the common Use and Experience of rocking froward Children in Cradles, or dandling them in their Nurses Arms." But the word can also suggest more agitated movement, as Bishop George Lavington, in comparing the "enthusiasm" of "Methodists and Papists, pointed out in his words: "Various Tumults of Mind, and Jactations of Body." What comes to mind when I see this word are the accounts of frontier Methodist evangelist Peter Cartwright, whose Autobiography detailed the "shakes" and "barks" and other jactitations experienced by auditors at revival meetings. The word is most useful in this meaning when we describe our sleep. "My night was characterized by perpetual restlessness, with anguished jactitations, as I cast myself from one side of the bed to the other."
I can give examples of (2) much more quickly. Sterne, in Tristram Shandy, has a useful quotation for (2). "After much dispassionate inquiry and jactitation of the argument on both sides--it has been adjudged for the negative." When debates on issues take place, one can talk about the jactitation of ideas. I like this much better than "give and take" or "to and fro."
Jactitation of Marriage
The use of the word to mean "vain boasting" or "bragging" comes from the Canon Law of the Church, especially the institution of marriage. During the time of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), jactitation of marriage became a statutory offense, though it had been illegal for centuries previous to that. In brief, jactitation of marriage is:
"when a person falsely boasts that he or she is married to another whereby a reputation of their marriage may ensue. The party injured sues for the purpose of having perpetual silence enjoined upon the unjustifiable boaster" (OED, s.v.).
I managed to find a wonderfully brief description of the history of this offense, with one example, from R.H. Helmholz's "Canonical Remedies in Medieval Marriage Law: The Contributions of Legal Practice," 1 UStThomasLJ 647 (2004). He says:
"The term "jactitation" means false boasting about something the speaker knows to be false, and actions brought against those who had made such "boasts" by claiming to have married someone else began to be entertained by the English ecclesiastical courts from at least the late fifteenth century forwards. A successful private suit established the plaintiff's right to marry someone else. An unsuccessful suit established either that no boast had been made or that plaintiff and defendant had entered into a valid marriage. For instance, in 1502 a woman named Margery Heyner was cited to appear in one of the courts of the bishop of London. The charge was "that she is boasting that she had contracted marriage with Thomas Risley, to the prejudice of a marriage between him and another, although she did not so contract." In answer, Margery alleged that she had in fact contracted with Thomas, but the judge held that the "words did not suffice to impede [Risley's] contract." The roots of this form of action clearly belong in the ius commune. The most common reference point was a text in the Roman law Codex which made it unlawful to denigrate the status of a free man by calling him unfree. It declared that unless a speaker who claimed that a person was of servile condition could prove it, perpetual silence was to be enjoined on him. This was regarded as a legitimate exception to the rule that no person could be forced to bring a lawsuit; the plaintiff was simply requiring the "boaster" to substantiate his boast. The action was not necessarily linked to marriage--indeed it lay closer to the law of defamation. Nonetheless, the jurists perceived in the Code's text a principal that all false assertions diminishing the status of another should be stilled. To claim that a marriage existed, when in truth it did not, diminished the status of the other person by making it harder for that person to contract another marriage. Hence a remedy should be made available to the person injured. So it seemed, at any rate, to some ecclesiastical lawyers, and by the middle years of the sixteenth century, jactitation of marriage was assuming a regular form it would retain until the twentieth century" (1 UStThomasLJ at 654).
So much is there in one little word. Let's move on now to the others.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long