Bill Long 8/6/08
More on Ammon Shea's Favorite Words
The words that remain for me to exposit are apricity, bouffage, fatherwaur, ignotism, introuvable, onomatomania. I should be able to knock these out in a trice. Well, after I finished this essay, I realized how wrong I was...Read on.
What's In Onomatomania?
I think I first learned the Greek word onoma/tos in 1971, in my initial semseter in ancient Greek. It means, simply, "name." I ran into my first onomatologist in 1992, when I was at a conference and listened to a guy speak eloquently about how parents named their children. And, as with almost every other object known to man, one, through onomatomancy or onomancy (if you want to hold the mato), can divine by names. So, we have onomancy, lithomancy, lecanomancy, catoptromancy and so many, many more. You could take a pencil, set it in front of you, utter some phrase and, if you are in a Spanish-speaking land, perhaps you have just invented lapizomancy!
Oh, oh. I think I have to take a long digression here, that may take me the rest of the essay. Why? Well, because I was minding my business on onomancy, on the way to our word onomatomania, when I ran across this 1880 quotation: "The Rabbinical writers describe a system of onomancy .. termed Notarikon, in conjunction with lithomancy." Well, I have little interest in finding out about Rabbinic lithomancy, but the reference to the Notarikon/Notaricon made me dive back into the Kabbalah, which I mentioned briefly here.
The Rabbis who were enamored of Kabbalah believed that spiritual truth was communicated through exoteric as well as esoteric means. These "hidden" or esoteric means were only open to those who were educated in proper ways of drawing out meaning from texts. Three methods used by kabbalistic interpreters were gematria, notarikon and temurah. I have already written about gematria here, and this web site tells you something about the last two. I will only focus on notarikon here.
Notarikon derives from the Byzantine Greek words notarikos, "secretarial" and notarios, "shorthand writer, secretary." Therefore this will be some kind of "shorthand" system of writing. The Hebrew word, obviously borrowed from the Greek, is notariqon. Though there seem to be at least two methods of notarikon-interpretation, here are the two most prominent methods: (1) taking of each letter of a Hebrew word in the biblical text and having each letter "stand for" an entire Hebrew word, and when all these words are connected, having a new sentence; and (2) taking letters from successive Hebrew words in the biblical text, perhaps the first letter of the successive words, the second letter, the last letter, etc. and making a Hebrew word out of these letters. In both cases the resulting product is the "deeper meaning" of the Scripture. Let me give you examples of each method so that you can see the somewhat wild, but very entertaining, method of Scripture interpretation.
Regarding the first method, we have this from a nineteenth-century book entited The Bizarre Notes and Queries in History, Folk-lore, Mathematics, Mysticism... The author quotes from a Jewish Kabbalist, Meir Ben Moses, who embraced the Christian faith in 1665 and took on the name Prosper Rugere. He wanted to give a notarikon (shorthand) reading of BRAShITh or "bereshit" ("in the beginning"), the first word of the Hebrew Bible. Most people might be of the uninformed opinion that it simply has a temporal reference--the outset of the world and creation. But, in fact, the good Kabbalist/Christian gives six interpretations of this word--of which only one need be mentioned. BRAShITh stands for:
"Ben Ruach, Ab, Shaloshethem Iechad Themim"
or, in translation (note the capitalized letters corresponding to the capitalized letters of BRAShITh--by the way, the "Sh" is just one letter in Hebrew, the "shin"):
"The Son, the Spirit, the Father, their Trinity, Perfect Unity."
Presto! You have it! The first word of the Hebrew Bible, in the hands of a former Jewish Kabbalist, is now a witness to the Trinitarian and Christian nature of God! Ya might just think that something is being read into the text, eh? But once you adopt this method as getting to truth, because truth is just too precious all to be put in exoteric or simple form, you, in fact, have no limits on your ingenuity. Wonderful.
A second example of notarikon would be to take a verse from the Hebrew Bible such as Deut. 30:12, "Who shall go up to heaven?" In Hebrew it is:
"MI IOLH LNV HShMILH.."
Now, by notarikon, if we take the first letter in each of the words, we get this:
Well, what word is this in Hebrew? Circumcision. Therefore the conclusion readily follows: Circumcision is linked to the ability to ascend to heaven.
Conclusion--Returning to Onomatomania
So, now we know two of the three classical methods of Kabbalistic interpretation of Scripture. The third, temurah, is beyond the scope of what I am doing here--and is the most complex of all. But, you figure, if God is speaking, and if God has a secret message to get across, no method is too arcane, no effort expended is a waste, to try to divine the divine meaning.
This has gotten us rather far afield from onomatomania, an innocent word that just wanted exposition. Well, in brief, it appeared for the first time in English in 1892, having been used in French (1885) and Italian (1834) before that time. It means: "morbid dread of some word; intense mental anguish at the inability to recall some word or to name a thing." But the OED also lists the meaning as "an obsession with or extreme love of names." While focusing on the frustration by one unable to recall the precise word you are looking for is humorous (we all have "been there"), the last meaning--obsession with or extreme love of names--is more useful. Perhaps it should be used to include logomania (lit. madness for words), and some of us who write so eagerly on words ought to be the first case studies.
I see I haven't made much progress on the last six words. Next essay should finish them up...