5. Pages 31-40
Bill Long 4/25/05
As I turn to the "al's" I have a lot of dullish words to get me started. I think I will go this route at first before taking a mental break with some more sexy terms. Alizarin is an orange or red crystalline compound and alkahest is the universal solvent believed by alchemists to exist. I sure wish I could have found this when my pen leaked into my shirt pocket recently. An alkanet is a Eurasian plant of the borage family (whatever that is), while an alkyd is a synthetic resin. The allantois (twa) is a vascular fetal membrane of reptiles while an allee, pronouned "a LAY" is a walkway lined with trees or shrubs. I am embarrassed to admit that French was one language I never took. I only learned how to read it in my doctoral program. Thus, like most things in life, I never have learned it "properly," and I have nightmares (a great word for nightmare is an ephialtes, though not in the Collegiate) about being caught on some French ballet term... Distinct from allee is allele, pronounced "a LEEL," which refers to variant forms of a gene that may occur at a given locus. Something that is alliaceous resembles garlic, while something that is alow is simply below something else. Well, I have been "good" so far in introducing/reviewing these nine words. Now let's have some fun.
This word piqued my interst because it is derived from the Greek words for pain and lust. The Collegiate defines it as a "perversion characterized by pleasure [that sure sounds perverse so far] and esp. sexual gratification in inflicting or suffering pain." Well, the term only arose about 1900, probably when shrinks started putting people on couches, and so the Century has no entry. The OED has only a surprisingly brief one on it, though it calls for comment. The OED also rushes to use the word "perversion" to define it, and then gives several quotations. From a psychological dictionary of 1924, it says that algolagnia was coined to
"denote the inner unity of a tendency embracing two instincts, the instinct of suffering and that of making others suffer, the pathological forms of these instincts being known as 'masochism' and 'sadism' respectively."
Wow. Now we have inner unities in perversion. Can't you just see a professor drawing a diagram on the board? From the word algolagnia radiate two lines, one to sadism and one to masochism. And, now that we are thinking of it, can you possibly imagine anyone who would ever find pleasure out of inflicting or experiencing pain during sexual excitement? How perverse can you get, really? We all know that sexual activity is a completely rational human action, pursued only out of the necessity of procreation. Unfortunately there just are perverts out there, requiring us to invent words with Greek roots to express our disgust at their inexplicable behavior. I bet those Methodists in Cheyenne, who began the National Senior Spelling Bee in 1996, won't touch algolagnia even with a caber. They will probably ignore algolagnia and ask about algology, the study of algae [also called phycology]. How tame, but that is probably what I should be studying.
I really was taken by the word altazimuth. It is a telescope mounted so that it can swing both horizontally and vertically, but the OED is really more helpful, telling us that it was invented by Prof. Airy (what else would his name be?) for determining the altitude and azimuth of a heavenly body. You really don't want to know the definition of azimuth. Trust me. Just find a dictionary that gives you a picture of it. I think it is the dictionary with pictures of canoes.
Then we have an alienist. It is such a fascinating word. Before the profession and culture settled on the word psychiatrist to describe the medical professional dealing with illnesses of the mind, there were two other terms vying for recognition. One was alienist. This word history isn't in the Collegiate, though the word is. Caleb Carr has written a book with that title. The word probably arose in the mid-19th century to describe someone who treats those who are not in their proper mind. They are "alienated" from themselves. The first OED quotation talks about an alienist associated with the Belgian Lunacy Commission. A quick internet search revealed that no one knows of that commission. Probably for the best.
Interestingly enough, the term alienist became associated early with law because more than 100 years ago psychiatrists began to be expert witnesses at trial. This was before the concept of "mad doctor" crystallized into "psychiatrist." But then statutes were written by legislators allowing the testimony of these expert witnesses, called in the statutes alienists. Because the statutes in many cases were never repealed, whenever a court appointed a shrink in the future, it had to refer to him/her as an alienist because that is what the statute called him/her. Utah and California courts still use the term, as is evident from a Westlaw search of the term under state court appellate decisions. Fascinating, isn't it?
One or Two More
I really do believe I could go on forever. Let's just breeze through a few more terms. Alterity caught my eye because it was defined as "otherness" or "the quality or state of being radically alien to the conscious self..." That immediately allured me of course. How are you radically alien to the conscious self? Maybe when you are practicing algolagnia for all I know. But I did some work on it and discovered that it, not unusually, is a favorite term of some post-modern philosophers, who use the term to describe the "Other." The 20th century philosopher Levinas really goes hog-wild using the term, and others have quoted him at length, though the concept seems to have only the most attenuated link to anything that makes sense. What can you expect? Levinas was a Latvian trained in French philosophy between the Wars. Who could expect that anyone would ever understand him? Now that was totally unforgivable, so I suppose I won't ask you for forgiveness.
Time would fail me if I tried to go deep into alveolar or amah or ama. By the way, an ama is a Japanese diver (usually for pearls) while an amah is a Chinese nurse. I hope I can keep my professions and nationalities straight when I am under the gun. I love the word amaranth, which means something that never dies, like the amaranthine splendor of an Oregon summer evening. But now I must move on, with a wing and a prayer or, more appropriately, with an alula and precation.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long