Pre and Per II
Bill Long 10/03/04
Prepensed and Perpensed/ Perpend and Relatives
I finished a previous essay by talking about the history of murder statutes as a way to understanding the term prepensed. My thesis was that the word prepense(d), originally part of the common law definition of murder (a killing with malice prepense-use is also made in common law of purpensed prior to the sixteenth century), gradually eroded into "aforethought" in American murder law and then, under the influence of the Model Penal Code (MPC) in the early 1960s, changed yet again. The MPC differentiates among mental states for crime, with the most heinous being "purposeful" and the next most severe being "intentional." Thus, by the 1970s we had not only dispensed with prepense but eliminated the classical American equivalent "aformentioned" on the way to new a language and rhetoric of murder.
Even though we have seemingly long discarded prepense(d), several derivatives of it are attested in English. Some of the more suggestive are these: prepensely--to express deliberateness of manner (also prepensedly communicates the same idea) and prepensive-- a factitious word invented by Fielding to mean prepense. I especially like prepensity, meaning "premeditation" and which can be used as follows: "The goal of good reporting and historical writing is to show that many historical changes occur by prepensity, rather than simply by adventitiousness."
Creating a Bridge to the "Pers"
Use of the word pre(pensity), however, launches us into the dyslexically similar per(pensity) and even propensity. Let's discard the last first. A propensity is an inclination. Derived from the Latin "propendere," meaning to lean or hang forward, or to incline, to have a propensity is therefore to have a "leaning" toward something. Propend is a good sturdy English verb, and could be used to express my propending toward an option or the propension (propending) of the human will toward something. "Lean" and "incline" are used far too frequently.
Perpensity, however, takes us into a different linguistic field. The Latin term "perpensationem," from "perpensare" means "a weighing or careful consideration." But "perpensare" is what is called the "frequentative" tense of "perpendare," and the latter means "to weigh thoroughly" (one sees the word "pendo" hanging behind all of this). A frequentitive tense emphasizes not just a past or present action but a repeated action. Thus, perpensity should be "repeated attention" to a matter (the OED also attests perpensation to express the same idea) and perpensed means "thoroughly considered, thought out, deliberate." My personal favorite is perpension--to express the mental weighing involved in a task. In the field of law, courts often express their opinions "after careful deliberation." Why not allow the judges to say, "Upon perpension, we hold..."
Now we can understand how someone could easily confused prepensed and perpensed. Most acts of premeditation require thorough consideration or deliberation. I suppose the confusion of the two is a venial sin (or is it venal)?
Moving Toward Pend
"And so we came to Rome," are Luke's lapidary words describing the final chapter in St. Paul's journeys in the Book of Acts (Acts 28:14). And so we come to pend, though without much space to treat it here. Pend can be tugged in two directions in English, based on whether the "weight" of the matter or the "hanging nature" of the thing is in view. Thus, when pend is in view, we really need to pay attention to what is said, or perpend.
Perpend is a word meaning to "weigh mentally or ponder," and is most familiar to readers through Shakespeare, who uses the term apparently with mock seriousness. That is, perpend is a term of some weight or seriousness, suggesting a careful and thorough consideration of the matter. But the only characters who use the term in Shakespeare are Polonius, Pistol and the Fool in Twelfth Night--not your typical congeries of characters who deliberate well.* So, the Fool speaks to Olivia, "Therefore, perpend, my
[*The proper use of the word is congeries rather than congerie or congery. The latter, according to the OED, was made up by mistake by someone who thought the final "ies" in congeries connoted the plural].
princess, and give ear (to Malvolio's letter; TN 5.1.299)." Can we use the term seriously today? I don't know, but we can try.
Before we leave this subject altogether, we need to do a few more things with per and pend. Though it certainly will not exhaust the subject matter, it may exhaust me.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long