EVEN MORE WORDS
Anadiplosis (Devices V)
Paronomasia et al
Symploce et al.
Legal Words I
Legal Words II
Legal Words III
Bill Long 8/5/05
Beginning With (A) Thrill
There would have been no reason for me to study "thrill" while studying "thrall" had my eye not fallen on enthrill when I was looking up enthrall. And even then, the connection was not direct. But, bear with me. The verb enthrill, attested only in the 16th century, means "to pierce." "Pale Death enthryling it [her breast] to reve her of her breath." [The use of reve here is attested as reave in the OED and means "to rob, despoil or deprive one of something by force"]
I found myself wondering the about the origin of thrill. It was not until the 18th century that the noun thrill appears in the modern sense of the term ("a subtle nervous tremor caused by intense emotion or excitement.."), The original use of the word thrill was as a verb and meant "to pierce, bore, penetrate." This usage goes back to the 14th century. An indication of the age of the term comes from 1530: "I thrill, I perce or bore thorowe a thyng...This terme is olde and now lytell used." From 1605, "Through Corslets, Rivets, Jacks, and Shirts of Mail/ His shaft shall thrill foes that him assail."
Non-material forces can be said to thrill something. Spenser could say, in FQ, "With percing point/ Of pitty deare his heart was thrilled sore." When Milton wrote eloquently of the nativity of Christ, he could say: "Such sound..the Airy region thrilling." It is not a far journey then to the concept of thrill as the emotion resulting from being "pierced." From 1791: "A kind of pleasing dread thrilled her bosom." Once we get this far, the modern use of the term is quite evident. But, perhaps if we keep the origin of thrill in mind, a something akin to drill (v.), we get a clear picture of its meaning. But, I was going to relate thrill to thrall wasn't I? Well, here is one definition of thrill as a noun. "Thrill: one who is bound in servitude: a thrall." Well, I suppose this is a very thin thread to unite thrill and thrall, but it gave me a nice excuse for this journey into thrill.
There are only three words attested in the OED built off of thrall and beginning with "en:" enthrall, enthraldom, enthralment." The literal sense of the first is "to reduce to the condition of a thrall, enslave."*
[*When I tried to type the word enslave, I first typed ensalve, which is attested in the OED to mean "to anoint" or "put salve on"--"I have brought here oyntmentes...to ensalve his body." Yikes, and then my mind fell on the word ensample, the word I learned when I was studying the KJV of the Bible and was puzzled, but delighted, that Christ was called our ensample"--or illustrative instance or pattern. Enough of this, or else I will wander forever, I fear.]
The OED says that it is now rarely used this way, and I would have to agree. We have older appearances of it: "Ingrateful Caesar who could Rome enthrall" or "The danger..of being again enthralled by the Spaniards." From 1875: "I am free! No man shall again enthrall me." But the more popular usage is the figurative one: "to enslave mentally or morally. To captivate, hold spellbound, by pleasing qualities." Shakespeare, as usual, knows the term. From MND: "So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape." I really think the Hallmark folk ought to rediscover this line and use it on their greeting cards. "The sense of beauty enthralls him at every step." From the early 19th century: "Spring shall return, and a lover bestow/ And sorrow no longer thy bosom enthrall."
Both significations, enthrall as physical or mental bondage, are evident in the use of enthralled. Again, from Shakespeare: "Love hath chas'd sleep from my enthralled eyes." But, from 1600: "The enthralled debtor..were immediately by name enrolled." In Areopagitica, his clarion call to free expression, John Milton said: "Through our...backwardness to recover any enthrall'd peece of truth out of the gripe of custom.."
Not unexpectedly, enthraldom and enthralment are synonymous, with the former stressing the state or condition of being enthralled while the latter stresses also the action of being enthralled. The later can be a synonym of slavery. An anti-Catholic tract could say: "Full of marks of their Popish Enthraldom." And, as if we don't have enough Victorian examples of the connection of thrall/enthrall to the passions, from 1884 we have: "The emancipation of multitudes of men and women from their enthraldom to a vitiated appetite. Keats could speak of "enthralments far more self-destroying," while a late 18th century writer could weep over the enthralment of our species.
Finishing with Disenthrall
And so we return to the words that began the previous essay. Like enthrall, the three words attested in the OED are disenthrall, disenthraldom and disenthralment. In the context of the hymn quoted in the previous mini-essay, this quotation seems strange: "God my soul shall disenthral." But it is true, in biblical language and Christian theology, that one could posit the goal of the Christian life as being freed from something that enslaved one, in order to become enslaved to that which freed one. Thus, the disenthralled soul might lustily sing of its thralldom to the Lord. In wonderfully beautiful language, John Milton comments on Psalm 4: "In straits and in distress/ Thou didst me disenthrall/ And set at large." Whenever you have beauty with respect to the word thrall/disenthrall, however, you have a Victorian waiting in the wings to clobber you about the passions. From 1843: "Reverene which disenthrals the mind from lower passions." Christian preachers still speak that way a little bit, but we are gradually becoming disenthralled from the notion that the passions should or can be separated from "reverence" or, really, from anything.
Let's close this essay, with a suggestive use of disenthralment from Lowell. "Enjoying that delicious sense of disenthralment from the actual which..twilight brings." Shakespeare might say that sleep brings a deliciousness to life: "The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath, balm of hurt minds...etc," but I like Lowell's image here. Twilight is one of my favorite times of the day. Twilight on Boston Common by Childe Hassam is one of my favorite paintings. Why? It was not until I read Lowell's quotation that I thought about it. Twilight does bring a disengagement, a freeing, a transition time, a new birth in the evening, a sense that one is disenthralled from the realities of the day. And that, in 2005, is very good news for most Americans.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long