(to return to Words Table of Contents, click here)

 

Bedlam-- If maudlin implicates a certain picture of Mary Magdalene in its meaning, the word bedlam, whose primary meaning today is "a scene of mad confusion or uproar," had its roots both in Biblical terminology and historical practice in England. The Judean town of Bethlehem was the place of Jesus' birth. During the thirteenth century in England, a hospital named St Mary's of Bethlehem was founded near Bishopsgate, London. Later that century or the next, it became known as a mental hospital, or one that served the "mente capti," or the "mentally ill."  The Report of the Charity Commissioners of 1403, looking into the conditions at the hospital, found four pairs of manacles, eleven chains, six locks and two pairs of stocks, even though it wasn't made clear whether these were for the restraint of the residents. When "Bethlehem" is pronounced quickly, one can easily see how it might sound like "bedlam."  "Bedlam," then became the place where the "crazies" were, and the abstract noun was used to describe a commotion or uproar characteristic of that place. That the word is still in common use today can be seen by the July 10, 2014 article in the Irish Times which talked about "pure bedlam" as Argentinian fans erupted in celebration after their team's World Cup victory over the Netherlands. 

Byre—now we come to an easy word.  Its origin is shadowy, but it goes back to Anglo-Saxon times. It may have originally referred to a shed, but by the sixteenth century it was a pen or house for cows or oxen. A memorable use of the term appeared in 1845: “He had beeves in the byre and flocks in the fold.”  Interestingly, the Scottish phrase “to muck the byre” meant “to clean dung or excrement” from the byre, with the verb “muck” meaning “to cleanse” or “remove dung from” or “free from muck (dung/excrement).”  

Callow—It’s too bad that the word “callow” is no longer widely known or used. For years it was a workhouse adjective, generally describing a young or inexperienced person.  “I first read Joyce’s book (Ulysses) as a callow youth. . .”  Tolstoy’s biographer Rosalind Bartlett, whose book was described as having a “magisterial sweep and scale,” is also described as having written the journey of a man from “a callow youth to writer to prophet.”  Though this is the principal way the word is used today, if used at all, its origin with the “cal-calv” root comes from the concept of baldness or nakedness. Wycliffe, for example, in his 1381 translation of the Old Testament, talked about the “baldness” or “calv” (i.e., “callow”) of a person in Leviticus 13:40.  His “hair is fleetin away” (i.e., disappeared). Interestingly, the “baldness” nature of the word was also incorporated in Old English place names, to suggest a place without vegetation.  As late as 1900 one could talk about “the callow land” being “aerated with the leavening plow.”  Its reference to an inexperienced person first originated in the late 16thcentury.  One could have a “callow reader” or “callow orators.”  In contemporary usage, when it appears, it is synonymous with “raw,” as in a 2012 quotation, “On paper they are raw, callow and underwhelming, a collection of worthy club players thrust into the international arena.”  It is unfortunate that the root of “calv” to describe baldness is no longer known in English (we also have the obsolete word calvity,meaning “baldness”); this may have contributed to the decline of “callow”—i.e., its root was “dead.”  But when we turn to Spanish, for example, the word imberbe, literally “without a beard” (barba is the Spanish word for “beard”) is their very common word for “callow.” Barba is omnipresent in Spanish. Google Translate renders imberbe as “callow.” But we have lost “callow.”

 

Cloy/cloying—modern definitions of “cloy” have “disgust or sicken (someone) with an excess of sweetness or sentiment.”  One might have a “romantic, cloying story.”  Or it can be used in terms of “cloying sentiment” or “a cloying explanation.”  One might have “a sweet but never cloying story” but, then again, if the story is too sentimental, it can be a “cloying story.”  Yet, cloy/cloying didn’t always mean this. It could mean, since the late 16thcentury, “to satiate, surfeit, disgust, weary” with the excess of anything, but it had a stronger meaning in those days as overloading with food so as to cause loathing.  So, “fullness of food” morphed into a “fullness of anything” which morphed into “fullness of sentiment.”  Yet, the origin of the term takes us on a journey even further back.  It originally was identical to the now obsolete verb “accloy,” which was taken from the French enclouer, which itself comes from the Latin inclavare, which literally means to “drive a nail into.” Its original context was to drive a nail into a horse’s foot when shoeing, thus laming it.  Thus, its first English meaning, from the fourteenth century, is to “cause to become lame, esp by maiming with a pointed instrument.” This “stabbing” or “piercing” meaning evolved into a “blocking” or “obstructing,” that isn’t too far away from “filling,” which allowed the leap to its specialized meaning today—“to fill or satiate or disgust or weary.”  But we are richer for knowing its origins were in Farriery.  

Comeuppance—is a deserved punishment or fate.  It is usually associated with one’s just desserts or deserved fate.  It reflects a nineteenth century English idiom, “to be/get come up with.”  That phrase means to “be outwitted, defeated, overcome.”  From 1833, “That old chap was well come up with.” Or, from 1901, “Revenge with him seemed to lie. . .in the victim’s realization that he was being come up with.” So, building on the “come up” meaning in the idiom, the word comeuppance first appeared in 1859 in Harper’s Magazine, “Dennis once got his ‘come-up-ance.’” W D Howells, in the Rise of Silas Lapham (1884) could write, “Rogers is a rascal. . . But I guess he’ll find he’s got his come-uppance.” By the 1960s, the dash had disappeared, “Fleet Street, accustomed to pour scorn on. . .other industries, had its ‘comeuppance’ with the report of the Shawcross Commission.”  Similar phrases such as “he had what was coming to him” or “He’s going to get his comin’s” suggest the same thing.  Some online sources say that its origin is in the practice of “coming up” before a judge where one might well receive a punishment.  Usually this punishment or comeuppance is a “reward” for arrogance or disregard of common courtesies. We all tend to want to see a bully get his comeuppance. 

 

Deign—derived ultimately from the Latin dignare, “to value” or “to be worthy,” deign then came through Italian and French before landing in English in the fourteenth century and meaing “to think it worth of oneself (to do something); to think fit, vouchsafe, condescend.”  Shakespeare used the term in Henry VI, Part III, “And all those friends that deign to follow me.”  Milton, too, got into the act in the seventeenth century speaking in Paradise Lost 5.221, “Raphael, the sociable Spirit, that deign’d to travel with Tobias.”  The modern meaning isn’t much different than this but focuses more specifically on the “think (it) fit” or “lower oneself” definition. It often is used with verbs like “reply” or “answer” in negative sentences.  From current examples, “She did not deign to answer the maid’s question” or “General Wotherspoon did not deign to reply, but walked away.” Yet, deign can be associated with most human activities: “I would not deign to look at you,” or  “J D Salinger did not deign to write a separate reply.” It remains a useful word, even though most don’t use it.

Diaeresis—the accent falls on the second syllable or, in the technical language of word-formation, the antepenult.  The word is taken directly from the Greek, and means “division.” Specifically, it has to do either with pronouncing two consecutive vowels that belong together or are a unit with two different sounds or with the double dots that appear on top of (usually) the second of the pair of those vowels.  It is the opposite of diphthong, a word where two consecutive vowels are pronounced as one sound.  Though some people know the word diphthong, few have heard of diaeresis. One of the most familiar examples of diaeresis is naïve, a two-syllable word with the double-dot placed over the second vowel.  Naif, the individual who is naïve, is usually pronounced as one syllable (if you follow the OED).  Another example is cooperate, where the “coop” is pronounced as two syllables.  There is debate, however, whether there should be a diacritic (i.e., the double dots, originally) placed above the second “o.”  But if there is some kind of mark placed in the vicinity of the double o, the consensus is developing that it ought to be a hyphen, co-operate. The “double-dot” diacritic is often present in Noel, though not in my program!  Many examples of diaeresis bear no diacritic, such as aerateor reenter, the latter of which increasingly seems to be written “re-enter.” Other examples arecoordinate, reengineer, preeminent. But the ultimate problem with words like diaeresisor caesura, for example, is that they developed in the context of ancient Greek poetry, where syllables and stress was very important. The same can’t be said about modern English.  

 

Farrier/Farriery—Going back to 1562, the word was used synonymously with a “smith” or someone who works in metals. Word origin goes back to the Latin ferrum, iron, and was meant to describe the iron shoe that fitted the horse’s foot.  Thus, a “Farrier” was a “shoeing-smith” or one who shoes horses. Once you hang around horses for a while, however, you begin to see that they need more than shoes, so a farrier became one who was also familiar with and treated diseases of horses.  From 1622: “An excellent Smith or Farryer who shall ever be furnished with Horse-shooes, nayles, and drugges, both for inward and outward applycations.”  So, early on the medical and technical crafts were emphasized. The word “veterinarian” also goes back to the early-mid 17thcentury, and so one wonders if the words “farrier” and “veterinarian” were used interchangeably, perhaps with the first being a more specialized term while “veterinarian” applied to dealing with illnesses or injuries of many different animals.  

 

Gloze- If one understands that the word “gloss” means to explain or interpret, to “interpose an explanation” on something, then we have captured the meaning of gloze. It goes back to Wycliffe at the end of the fourteenth century with this meaning.  But then it also meant, at about the same time, the type of comment or interpretation that would palliate, explain away or extenuate.  Just as one would “gloss over” something, one could be said to “gloze over” something. “The wicked outwardly gloze (i.e., explain away) their corrupt dealings.”  Don’t “gloze over” (i.e., extenuate) the sins and sorrows of men” (from 1884).  One might have, from 1845, “with the tongue of flattery glozing deeds which God and Truth condemn.”  Thus, the “explanation” took on the flavor of the type of speech that gave this explanation:  flattery or ingratiating or fawning language. Milton used the word in this sense PLIII.93, where God is worrying about how Satan will deceive Man in the new-created world.  Satan will try with “some false guile (to) pervert.”  The sad truth is that “man will hearken to his glozinglies.”  Milton’s use might include not simply an “extenuating” meaning but especially a “flattering” or “ingratiating” manner, meant to deceive. 

 

Henotheism—a popular term in the history of religions. Coined by the early nineteenth century German philosopher Schelling, henotheismsuggests a belief in or worship of one god while not denying the existence of other gods.  Some scholars have also called this monolatrism (“worship of one god”), with the noun form being monolatry, though henotheism has a longer and more developed history.  It was the rage in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible scholarship of about a century ago to use an evolutionary model for the development of religions, with its “isms” going from polytheism to henotheism tomonotheism.  Yet, the term henotheism never fully caught on as a term to describe a stage in the evolution of Israel’s religion, both because of the weakness of the evolutionary model as well as the seeming exclusive monotheism that characterizes many of the biblical texts. The nineteenth century Indologist Max Muller found the term useful to describe aspects of Hindu religion. There currently is a minor debate in the study of Latter Day Saint theology of whether that church could best be characterized as a monotheistic or henotheistic church.

 

Hereditament—derived ultimately from the Latin verb hereditare,“to inherit,” a hereditament,in law, is the general term to describe something that can be passed on to an heir.  Usually the word is qualified by the word “corporeal” (land) or “incorporeal” (everything else), the latter leading to the impressive phrase, “incorporeal hereditament” (10 syllables).  The earliest appearances of the word, in the Rolls of Parliament in the days of Edward IV (late 15thcentury), usually put hereditament next to other kinds of incomes, to wit, “prerogatives, escheats, customs, reversions, remainders” along with “all other hereditaments with her appurtenances.”  Sounds lawyerly, doesn’t it?  Another list included, “castles, manners, services, fees, advowsons, hereditaments, and possessions.”

 

Infamous—We have lots of words to describe something we really don’t like. That unliked thing can be abominable or notorious or detestable, for example.  Well, even worse than any of these is the word “infamous” which, today, doesn’t seem quite as bad.  We might say today that a person is “infamous” for one’s anti-feminist attitudes or “infamous” for one’s ruthless exploitation of tenants by frequent rent increases, but this suggests something mildly objectionable.  In its origin it meant “notoriously evil, wicked or vile; held in infamy or public disgrace.” One definition in the OED says, “of shameful badness, vileness or abominableness; of a quality deserving utter reprobation.” Historically it was one of the strongest adjectives of detestation.  Law entered in to define an infamous person as one who, as a consequence of conviction of certain serious crimes, was deprived of all or some rights of a citizen, such as ability to exercise the franchise, from serving as a juror or even giving evidence in a court of law. But the problem is that in early English law there is no enumeration of what constitutes an infamous crime.  By the late 19thcentury, in the criminal law consolidation statutes of Victoria (chapter 96; copying the law from her predecessor George IV), an infamous crime seemed to be narrowed to a sexual crime, i.e., the “abominable” crime of buggery or of soliciting or inducing someone so to commit it “shall be deemed to be an infamous crime.” Yet, the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, from the previous century, says that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury.”  This is an indication that the definition of “infamous” narrowed down as time went along. In the 17th/18thcenturies it appeared to mean something treasonous or felonious or involving moral turpitude to such an extent that one is unworthy of belief in a court of law.  It is just about as bad as you can be.  

 

Instill—we normally associate this word today with the concept of gradually infusing or insinuating something into a person. A basketball coach might talk about the way s/he instills confidence into his team during the course of a season. Parents want to instill confidence in children as they mature. It seems, as a quick search of the Net yields, that people are always wanting to instill things in others—instill a sense of power, confidence and beauty in women; instill a sense of independence or responsibility in children; etc.  Few might realize, however, that the word comes from the two Latin words “in,” which means the same as “in” in English, and “stillare,” which means to “drop” or “drip.”  Its first two appearances, in the 1530s and 1540s, emphasized two different aspects of that meaning: (a) the actual act of dripping; or, the present use, (b) the gradual release of a thing into another thing. Milton, in Paradise Lost  (xi. 416) could use it in the “dripping” sense:  “Michael..from the Well of Life three drops instill’d.”  But the latter usage is attested as early as 1533: “As a faithful preacher by the word doth instillit into us by our ears and hearing.” Or, from 1670, emphasizing the slow process of something: “Instilling into his soul the seeds of piety.”  Yet the meaning of instilling as “dripping” or “dropping,” which seemingly had faded out contemporary use, received its most unexpected affirmation in our present day after I got home from the eye doctor. He had given me some eye drops. The directions said that I should gently put two fingers on my face an inch below my eye, pull down to create a pocket between my lower eyelid and my eyeball and then, “squeeze lightly to instill one drop inside your lower lid.” I never thought that reading directions on a medication today would get me in touch with a definition, mostly lost, from nearly 500 years ago (see my exposition of the word stillicide for an interesting twist on “still”in law).  

 

Jackanapes—the several negative words associated with jackanapestoday include a trickster, someone who is vain, impudent, impertinent or ridiculously ostentations, or a mischievous and cheeky individual, especially a child.  It is not always clear which part of the definition is being referred to when the word appears. The word doesn’t seem to be used much today, even though a 2011 Sunday Telegraph appearance has, “I am too distracted, not to say totally irritated, by the assembled jackanapes waving to the camera. . .” The word’s origin may be more interesting than its usage, either historical or contemporary. Associated with William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk (1396-1450), a hero until he was instrumental in losing English possessions to France in the late 1440s, it began as a description of the good Duke’s coat of arms, which consisted of a collar and a chain—the same sort that were used at the time for leashing pet monkeys. That collared monkey was known as a “jackanapes,” with the “jack” being of uncertain origin but the “apes” obviously related to the “monkey.”  The term evolved to becoming a derogatory common noun: “dressed out like a jackanapes” or “having as much law as a jackanapes” or “grinning/guffawing like a jackanapes.”  But the morally deficient nature of such a creature was emphasized as time went on. From 1689:  “They tell him he’s a jackanapes, a rogue and a rascal.” The quotation from 2011 above emphasizes the same.  Thus, if its meaning could be summarize today, one would say it is a derogatory term referring to a arrogant, stubborn, insignificant or mischievous person.  

Laciniated—an adjective, going back to 1657 in English, a botanical term, derived from the Latin laciniatus (“jagged”) through the Italian (end of 15thcentury) laciniato.  Laciniate, meaning the same thing as laciniated, originated about 1750.  Description of plants or leaves from end of 16thcentury; can also be in zoology.  Meaning is “jagged” or “fringed” or “having an irregular margin” or “slashed.”  A zoological usage comes from 1856:  “Body (of the gastropod mollusk Phasianella) margined by a laciniate membrane.” Its 1760 usage makes it clear:  “Laciniate, jagged; when they are variously divided into Parts, and those Parts in like manner indeterminately subdivided.”   

 

Lionize—currently meaning “to praise” or “treat a person as a celebrity,” comes from about 1825, in Oxford, as slang meaning to “visit” or “see a place.”  One would visit the “lions” or important people/sights of a place; therefore “lionizing” was the process of this visiting. By 1837 it could also take on the figurative meaning of treating someone like a celebrity. This definition has led to my attempt at wit in my “Wit and Wordplay” page:  “The Eagles were celebrities.  There ain’t no way to hide their lionize. . .”

 

Lipid—From Greek lipos (“fat”), entering into English in 1925, after the French introduced it in 1923, to describe “any of a large group of fats or fat-like compounds occurring in living organisms and characteristically soluble in certain organic solvents but sparingly in water” (OED).  Includes many natural oils, waxes, steroids/sterols, phospholipids.  Long chains of carbon and hydrogen molecules. Examples include butter, cholesterol, vegetable oil.  

 

Locofoco—It’s hard to imagine a better article on the history of this word than in the Wikipedia entry, but there is a misleading entry on it in the OED, and so clarity is in order. The word refers to two things:  a self-lighting cigar, invented in 1834 by New Yorker John Marck, and a radical group of the state and national Democratic party that flourished from about 1835-1845.  First, on the cigar.  Marck developed this cigar with a hardened and combustible tip in 1834.  An January 30, 1835 advertisement in the New York Post called them “self-igniting Segars.” There is some controversy as to why Marck so named it.  The leading theory today suggests that the “loco” derives from the name of the newly-created locomotive, and thus suggests a “place” (from Latin “locus”), while the “foco” is a mistaking the Italian “fuoco,” meaning “fire.”  Thus, it is “fire in place” (i.e., no matches needed). It became associated with a political party according to the report of the 1842-published book on New York political parties by J. D. Hammond.  Hammond tells of the boisterous legislative experience in New York in 1835, in which the lights were extinguished only to be replaced by the locofoco candles/lights provided by some radical Democrats.  From that day forward, the “equal rights” or radical Democrats, in distinction from the Whigs and regular Democrats, were known as the “locofocos.”  The term was meant to be derogatory; perhaps the “loco” was then meant to refer to “crazy” people. The OED quotes the Hammond story, but only gives the date of publication of the book (1842), giving the impression that Hammond was describing events of 1842.  But since other OED entries from 1835 and 1837 refer to the political definition of the term, confusion is created by that august tome.I had to read elsewhere to see that Hammond’s description was actually of the 1835 New York legislative session.   

 

Lipizzan/Lippizan with “er” ending to designate the horses. This pertains to Lipizza or Lippiza, the Austrian Imperial Stud, where these horses were bred. Established in 1580, the Lipica (Slavic spelling) stud farm is the oldest continuously operating stud farm in Europe.  It is closely associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.  Rescue of Lipizzans during WWII by Americans was made famous in Miracle of the White Stallions. Eight stallions are the foundation bloodstock of the breed; all modern Lipizzans trace bloodline to these eight stallions.  Lipica was in the original boundary of Trieste, hence the Italianizing of the name…(Lipizza). Beginning in 1920 the Piber Federal Stud, near Graz, Austria, became the main stud for the horses used in Vienna. The Spanish Riding School uses these highly trained stallions in public performances to demonstrate classical dressage movements and training.  School located in Vienna. As of 2012, almost 11,000 Lipizzans were registered, with ¾ of them in Europe.  Other numbers…8500 worldwide, with 1100 in US.

Maudlin-- both an adjective and noun, but most frequently appearing as an adjective, meaning tearful or overly sentimental.  The key to understanding the word is to see it derived from the name Mary Magdalene, one of the women of means who helped fund some of Jesus' ministry (Luke 8:2-3). She is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament, also as a witness to the resurrection and a traveling companion of the disciples. Yet, in medieval times, her picture became conflated with the picture of another biblical Mary and also the sinful woman who, weeping, anoints Jesus' feet (Luke 7:36-50). Thus, Mary was seen as a weeping, sentimental, vulnerable woman. These two characteristics:  Mary as lachrymose and Mary as weakly sentimental, are the two leading meanings of the term, even though the meaning rests on a medieval conflation of persons.  The term emerged in the 17th century in both senses, as well as a third:  maudlin as pointing to that stage of drunkenness characterized by both sentimentality and effusive displays of affection. A 1699 dictionary gives this definition:  "weepingly Drunk, as we say the Tears of the Tankard." Maudlin as "weepy" is best illustrated by reference to the Presocratic philosopher Heraclitus (ca 500 BCE), whose gloomy philosophy of the fleeting character of all things, earned him the nickname, starting in the 17th century and reflected in a 1759 Samuel Butler quotation, of the "Maudlin philosopher."  "He laments, like Heraclitus the Maudlin philosopher, at other Men's Mirth."  John Donne, in the 1630s, used the term in its sentimental sense:  "It was a matter, which I might very well have left unwritten, having too much of the Maudlin humor in it."

 

Meliorism—derived from the Latin word “melior,” or “better,” it was coined in 1877 by George Eliot and quickly became adopted as a word to describe a philosophical position midway between optimism and pessimism with respect to hope for the future. A melioristwould argue that an “optimist” was often a sentimental and unrealistic thinker, a Panglossian figure (derived from Voltaire) who always saw things through rose-colored glasses. On the other hand, the “pessimist” was always expecting the worst, perhaps even entertaining notions of imminent end-times disasters. Yet, the melioristbelieved that society could be improved, through rational effort, and that the goal of our earthly endeavors should be to seek and implement that improvement.  Though it is most comfortable as a philosophical position, the term was early adopted by the influential Christian (socialist) sociologist Lester Ward (1841-1913), perhaps the major force behind the strikingly popular social gospel movement, which began in the late nineteenth century and lasted for a few decades.  Ward was quick to drain all sentimentality from the term, saying in 1883 that meliorismwas “humanitarianism minus all sentiment.” Many would argue that the philosophical underpinnings of the Progressive movement of the 1910s and the New Deal of the 1930s were nurtured in the sociological theories of Ward, who himself was a meliorist.  

 

Melisma—a musical term denoting the practice of singing multiple notes on one syllable of a word. It is most easily illustrated through GF Handel’s words in Messiah, such as in the phrase “Every valley shall be ex ALLLLLLLLLLLLLL  ted…” with the “ALLL” sound being sung by perhaps twenty different notes over several measures.  Though the word now refers to a specific musical phenomenon (and, interestingly enough, the world had not been coined either in German or English at the time of Handel), it is derived from the Greek word melisma, meaning a “song, air, melody.” Its first usage was in an 1831 letter of Felix Mendelssohn. Though found extensively in music going back to Gregorian Chants, the 1938 Oxford Companion to Music defines the melisma as a “feature of eighteenth century vocal music; often used merely for display purposes but also descriptively and for emotional expression.” Handel’s “Rejoice greatly,” from Messiah, is given as an example. Most scholars are quick to add that it receives its fullest development in our day in African-American Gospel music.  

 

Mellifluous—the root of this word shouldn't be confused with that of melisma. Instead of a Greek term, the Latin words mel (“honey”) and fluere (“to flow”) form the basis of this word.  Its root meaning is to be of the nature of honey or sweetened with honey, but its figurative meaning soon triumphed over the literal, and by 1500 it could describe “sweet” or “honeyed” or “pleasant-sounding” music or speech. Shakespeare used the term in Twelfth Night, “A mellifluous voice, as I am true knight” and Milton, about fifty years later, could say in Paradise Regained, “Wisest of men; from whose mouth issued forth mellifluous streams.” An easy-to-read or smooth-flowing literary work can be said to have a “mellifluous” style. But the word is also used frequently to describe the warble or sounds of birds: “Its note is not so mellifluous and varied as that of the song thrush.”  Some languages might be termed “mellifluous,” though I don’t think that German or Russian are ever considered in that number. The word also appears in Spanish and Italian, among other romance languages.  Everyone loves the term, but having one’s speech or music be so denominated is a challenge.  

Monoecism—monoeciousis adjective.  Monoecismfrom about 1875; monoeciusfrom a century earlier.  J E Smith in 1814 said that Linnaeus coined the word monoici/monoecius(singular, from the Greek) “confined to one house or dwelling.”  In the field of botany it means for a spermatophyte (plants that bear seeds, including gymnosperms and angiosperms) to have both male and female reproductive organs on different flowers of the same plant.  

Novena—A novena, derived from the Latin word for “nine,” is a nine-day or nine-week (one day per week) series of prayers commemorating or praying to a saint or praying about a certain important issue that is part of Catholic or Orthodox (primarily) religious devotion.  These nine-day/week cycles of prayer aid in focusing devotional attention and establishing regular habits of personal piety.  The practice’s origin is lost in the mists of time, though some think that it derived from earlier Greek practices of mourning for a lost loved one for nine days. A web page lists more than fifty novenas that might be said.  One wonders if one of the novenas, called the “Respect Life Novena,” starting on January 21 with its feast day on January 30 (the nine days of prayer are January 21-29) was developed in response to Roe v Wade, the US Supreme Court decision, handed down January 22(1973).  One that most interested me is the Thomas Aquinas Novena, commencing January 19, with its Feast Day on January 28.  It consists of an introductory prayer, to be repeated each day; a different prayer for each of the nine days of the novena; and then a concluding prayer, to be repeated each day.  The introductory prayer, perhaps reflecting the zeal of Thomas, asks grace from God to “desire ardently all that is pleasing to Thee, to examine it prudently, to acknowledge it truthfully, and to accomplish it perfectly.” Some of the prayers of the individual days seem more like theological assertions than prayers, such as that of Day 3, “God loves his creatures and he loves each one the more, the more it shares his own goodness, which is the first and primary object of his love. . .” Yet some, like the prayer of Day 6, are undoubtedly prayers, “Virgin full of goodness, Mother of mercy, I entrust to you my body and soul. . .” The final prayer for each day is memorable, “Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding. . .” It is an alluring discipline and practice, and we get also get a new word out of it!

Novercal—this word sounds like it ought to have something to do with numbing pain, but instead it is derived from classical Latin noun noverca, “stepmother,” and novercalis,“belonging to or characteristic of a stepmother.”Whereas the literal meaning imports no moral judgment into the word, from time immemorial its extended meaning has been “cruel, malicious, hostile,” perhaps reflecting the fact that in fairy tales as well as real-life existence life with a stepmother is often challenging at best and dangerous at worst. This association of evil with a stepmother not only antedated Disney but also arose earlier than the Brothers Grimm stories of such a character.  Novercalentered English early in the seventeenth century and by 1654 was associated with “hate”: “If death must be the doom of love; pray what shall be the sentence of novercal hate?” Authors could speak of “novercal malice” or “novercal despotism.” “Novercal benevolence” was associated with “niggardly” benevolence.  Robert Browning also picked up on this usage in 1868: “Guido’s old lady-mother Beatrice. . .was recognized of true novercal type, dragon and devil.” Someone out there needs to compose an alternative narrative for stepmothers. . .

Orthoepy—orthoepist. Orthoepy is both a branch of linguistics that deals with the pronunciation of words as well as the final result—correct pronunciation.  The word is derived from two Greek words meaning “right” and “speech/word.”  Orthoepy first appeared in English in 1640; the proper pronunciation of a word was inserted into English-language dictionaries beginning in the 1770s, though most people probably don’t understand the pronunciation guides. I note the delicious irony that the OED gives us five different ways of pronouncing the word orthoepy. Ever since the seventeenth century, the two concepts of orthography, “correct writing” and orthoepyhave appeared together in titles of books.  An example is the 1888 Fundamentals of the English Language, Or, Orthography and Orthoepy.” We may try for uniform or standard pronunciation of English words, but you tell me if it is “IN sur ance” or “in SUR ance” and whether Mussolini was an “EYE ta lian” or “EE ta lian.”

Pityriasis—originates in classical Greek pityron (“bran” [i.e., coarsest part of a husk]); becoming pityriasisin Hellenenistic Greek and post-classical Latin.  Can also mean “scurf.”  It first appeared in English in Stephen Blankaart’s Physical Dictionary of 1684, which was a translation into English of his Lexicon medicum (Latin, 1679). In that dictionary it was defined simply: “Pityriasis, vid furfurratio.” The latter word, “furfurratio,” is only attested as a rare word in the OED by the spelling of “furfuration,” first appearing in 1706. Pityriasisoriginally described dandruff or scurf, but in later appearances it described any of several skin diseases characterized by the presence of lesions with bran-like scales.  It also is used as a genus of shrike, or “piping-crows” native to Borneo, comprising the bristlehead. So named because of its coarse and stiff body (I suppose, like scurf, or scales) 

Next Essay

Previous Essay