A Festival of Words VIII
Bill Long 3/27/07
Terpsimbrotos, Chirotony, and Meshummad
We continue our festival of words by looking at two words on the Consolidated Word List ("CWL") and one that appears in no dictionary I have seen. Terpsimbrotos appears to be a new coinage, for it is absent from all dictionaries and only gets 895 Google "hits" on a word search. Most of those repeat the contents of the Wikipedia article, which itself points to a 1992 article which apparently coined the term. The Wikipedia article isn't the best article that could be written on the subject by any means, but you can limn the basic meaning of the term from it. Terpsimbrotos is meant to describe a compound word, each part of which word contributes to the meaning of the concept under consideration. A primate whose species name is tardigradus is one that is "slow" (tardi) in walking "gradus." One wouldn't expect, therefore to find the species name of the cheetah to be tardigradus.
The phenomenon first appeared in Western literature in the Iliad, where epithets are liberally given to the gods and humans, epithets that are made up of two Greek words put into one. For example, Aphrodite is known as "laughter-loving" (philonmeides), Apollo is known as the one who is "far-shooting" (hekebolos), and Ares can be denominated "man-slaying" (androphonos). These are all examples of terpsimbrotos. Indeed, the word terpsimbrotos itself is a terpsimbrotos. It means "gladdens" (terpsi) and "man" (brotos). Thus, this kind of word makes us happy or gladdens our literary appreciation.
Actually I think the greatest user of terpsimbrotes in English is Shakespeare or John Bunyan. I was just reading As You Like It this weekend; I laughed when I realized that the curate who would marry Touchstone and Audrey was none other than Mr. Mar-text. Someone who "mars" the text" is somebody that twists or misinterprets the Scripture. In Bunyan, one of the characters whom Christian meets along the way to the Heavenly City is Mr. "Pickthank," who is a witness against Faithful. Pickthank means "flatterer," and Mr. Pickthank flatters the people of this world. Or, Mr. By-Ends, a hypocritical pilgrim who perishes in the Hill Lucre silver mind. A "by-end" is a pursuit of something indirectly. Mr. By-Ends was pursuing financial gain through his religion. Now that we know the word terpsimbrotos, we have all the more reason to try to find, and invent, examples of it. It will return the joy to language use, a joy that slips out of language whenever you listen too long to newscasters, financial people, and politicians.
Meshummad is on the "Words Appearing Frequently" part of the Consolidated Word List. There is some debate, however, over how to spell it. Meshummad only has 500 or so Google results while meshumad has more than twice that number. Nevertheless, we have to learn it as meshummad lest we miss its spelling and be thrown into the outer darkenss. The OED, however, spells it meshumad, just to add to the confusion.
Speaking of outer darkness, the word meshummad is one of a cluster of three Hebrew terms signifying a person who has left his/her (Jewish) faith. Those who leave Jewish faith are either anusim, meshumadim or minim (these are all masculine plural nouns). They are explained/defined as follows. A min is a Jew who basically denies the existence of God, a meshumad is one who doesn't adhere to the observance of Jewish law and an anus (pronounced "ah NOOS", for you people whos minds are in the gutter) is one who is forced to abandon Judaism against his/her will. Thus, as this web article says, Sigmund Freud, an atheist, would be the most famous modern min, and Albert Einstein, who believed in God's existence but didn't observe Jewish Law, would be a meshummad. Someone who forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition, for example, would be an anus. The last category of people has sometimes been called "Conversos" or "Marranos" (the "cursed race," from a curse used by Jews against other Jews).
Isn't it fascinating and illuminating how we can take one of the 23,000+ terms from the CWL, get into the world assumed by the term and then, presto, discover five to ten more words that come from the same world? Another brief example of this is found in the word vaporetto, on the CWL and in the 1997 Bee. A vaporetto is a small motorized ferry boat used in Venice to take you in the various canals. But you understand vaporetto better when you also know gondola (which everyone knows), traghetto, another form of Venice transportation which no one knows about and lido, the beach spit or island which is the destination of some of the trips.
You can get confused with this word, so let's take it slowly. Whenever you have "chir," you have "hand," and so something with respect to hands is included here. "Tony" is the anglicization of the Greek verb "tenein," which means to "stretch out." Thus, we have some kind of "stretching out the hands" in chirotony. The Unabridged has "the extension of hands in bestowing a blessing in an ecclesiastical rite," but the OED has the following: "election or appointment to office by vote (Sometimes confused with 'ordination by imposition of hands.')." Thus, the OED is accusing the Unabridged or its predecessors of confusion. Perhaps as a way of keeping peace in the "family" of dictionaries, the Century has this: "1. In Gr. antiq., voting by show of hands. 2. Impsition of hands in ordaining priests." It is first attested in English in 1658: "The People gave the Result of the Commonwealth by their Chirotonia, that is, by holding up their hands." This is clearly the "political chirotony." But this article, describing the nature of ordination in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, helps us understand what chirotony means in the religious world.
According to the article, the Eastern Orthodox Church has two minor orders, those of reader and subdeacon. Candidates for minor orders, the lowest order of clergy, are ordained by the laying on of hands. "There is a distinction between the laying on of hands for minor orders (chirothesis) and that for major orders (chirotony)." Thus, a chirotony in the Eastern Orthodox Church is the laying on of hands in ordination to a major order. We would have to take lots of time both to know all the different "orders" in the Eastern Church as well as to learn the theology and words of the liturgy where chirotony was practiced. Some of you may choose to pursue that understanding. The more effort you put into learning, the more you are rewarded by deeper and more precise understanding.
And, as a final note. The Unabridged has chirothesia, and not chirothesis, but it means the same thing (Neither appears in the OED). Yet, it defines chirothesia in an unhelpful way: "imposition of hands as in the ecclesaistical rites of confirmation and ordination." Well, it seems that it was used for certain rites of the lesser clergy only and only in the Eastern Orthodox Church; the Unabridged definition gets us almost nowhere.
Here ends another essay where we try to peel back the layers of words and relate them to the life out of which they came. We really are getting close to Ph.D-level knowledge of the world, don't you think? In fact, 9/10 professors don't know this stuff. The only ones who do are paid to know it...i.e., it is their field.