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Prebendary—one who derives income from a prebend.  This word, derived from the late Latin praebenda (a “salary”or “pension”) points to a stipend derived from a section of land or estate owned by a cathedral and used to support a canon of a cathedral or one active in the administration of a cathedral or collegiate church.  During services the prebendaries sit in designated seats, known as prebendal stalls. The development of the institution of prebendaries came shortly after the Norman Conquest, and enabled the cathedrals and collegiate churches, which owned land, to be relatively independent of the local bishop.  This office mostly disappeared after the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the days of Henry VIII.  A beneficeis a more general term, pointing to any ecclesiastical office which bestows an income on its holder. 

 

 

Scapular—derived from the Latin word for shoulder (scapula), the scapular is a garment or covering originally worn by monks and now, in a much different form, also worn by lay Christians, mostly in Catholicism. Its origin is in Chapter 55 of the Rule of St Benedict, where monastic garb was listed as a cowl (hood), a tunic, a scapular and sandals or shoes.  Though the cowl and tunic were chosen based on the climate, the only comment made about the scapular is that it was “for work.”  It was a garment about a foot or 18’’ wide, with a hole for the head but no arm holes, that stretched from the knees in front to the calves behind. Wearing the scapular was not only required but was interpreted as a sign of devotion, of taking on the “jugum Christi” (yoke of Christ).  In our day, a modified scapular, consisting of two rectangular little wooden pieces, hanging in front and back, joined by a thread or some kind of string.  Sometimes various Scripture verses are written on them or an indication of the religious fraternity to which the wearer belonged. They are to remind the wearer of his or her devotion to Christ. 

 

Scholia— This is a plural noun, with the singular, scholium,derived from the Greek and meaning “interpretation” or “commentary.”  In a word, they are marginal notes or glosses inserted on ancient manuscripts. Imagine the following scenario.  Brother Dominic, or some medieval monk, is poring over Origen’s (3rdCentury Alexandrian Christian theologian) commentary on Genesis. He is so excited about what he sees, or confused at what he sees, that he just can’t avoid putting notes in the margin to clarify the text or to express his ideas.  These notes may be among the most insignificant musings of an inept interpreter or they may be stunningly insightful comments that clarify a hitherto obscure text. This is an arcane topic in classical, historical or biblical studies, but one that has attracted a lot of interest. Recently, for example, a Duke University graduate student in classics presented a paper on the scholia of Sophocles, making the argument that these comments over time give an insight to the reception history of that tragedian as well as differentiate how Sophocles was read from Euripides, Aeschylus and other tragedians. We know that there were extensive scholiaon Homer, Hesiod, Sophocles and Pindar, of the ancient Greeks.  

 

 

Scofflaw—I can’t imagine a better essay being written on the history behind this word than that published online in 2014 by Britt Peterson in the Boston Globe.  She tells us in detail what the OED only hints at—that the word was invented as a result of a contest, publicized through the Boston Heraldin 1923, for a word that would characterize the attitude of those who ignored the Volstead Act, passed in 1919 (and coming into effect in 1920), which implemented the Prohibition Amendment of 1918 (18thAmendment to the US Constitution). The Volstead Act made it a crime, among other things, to manufacture, transport or sell alcoholic beverages in the US.  In the language of prohibition-supporting President Warren G Harding, drinking alcoholic beverages was a “menace to the republic itself.” So, Quincy MA philanthropist Delcevare King announced he would award $200 in gold to whomever could come up with the best word to denounce a violator of this amendment.  The word had to have no more than two syllables and start with “s.”  The winning word, out of more than 20,000 submissions, was “scofflaw,” submitted by two people, who ended up splitting the prize money. The January 16, 1924 edition of the Boston Herald announced the winners and thereby officially coined a new word.  Most thought the world wouldn’t outlive Prohibition; at least that is what humorist HL Mencken said about the word in 1936, probably intending to inter it once and for all. But, as luck would have it, the New York Timesresurrected the term early in 1956, when it said that a (huge) fine of $50 was imposed “upon a woman scofflaw who had accumulated fifty-one parking tickets.” The term remains in current use to describe anyone who treats the law with contempt, especially someone who avoids various kinds of not easily enforceable laws. 

 

Scorbutic—the word has been associated with the disease of scurvy, suffered frequently by sailors, since its coinage in English.  Actually, the story is a bit more complex. The French term for is scorbutique, which apparently, because of its softer-sounding consonants and long “y”-sounding last syllable, became “scuruie” in its first English appearance in 1589. The second “u,” since it appears before a diphthong, can be pronounced as a “v”/”b”. But once scuruie became “scurvy” in the 17thcentury, it left the “scorbut”—type spelling behind.  The disease, which we now know is caused by a deficiency in vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, in the diet, is characterized by tenderness in the gums, subcutaneous eruptions, pains in the limbs and foul breath.  A 1968 quotation connects scurvy with four other diseases:  “Five major diseases:  scurvy (deficient vitamin C); pellagra (deficient vitamin B3—niacin); beriberi (deficient vitamin B1—thiamine); keratomalacia (deficient vitamin A); and rickets (deficient vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate).” Perhaps more common than the word “scorbutic” is “antiscorbutic,” a drug or juice used to combat scurvy.  It is as simple as giving people oral supplements and a diet including citrus fruit, vegetables (including tomatoes) and lemon juice.

 

 

Scrofula—This word denotes a disease characterized by chronic enlargement and degeneration of the lymphatic glands. As we now know, it is the condition in which the bacteria causing tuberculosis causes symptoms outside the lungs, usually in the form of inflamed and irritated lymph nodes in the neck. The disease received its name because the domesticated pig (Latin word scrofa)was supposed to be especially subject to the disease.  Aristotle first mentioned the phenomenon (writing of course in Greek in the 4thcentury BCE) with respect to pigs and oxen, but the Latin-derived word didn’t appear in English until Lanfranc’s Cirurgia Magna, written early in the 1300s, was translated into English about 1400.  Yet the phenomenon, whether or not known by its official term, was also known in Medieval England as the “King’s Evil.”  It was so named, and some sources place this naming to the pre-Conquest rule of Edward the Confessor, because the malady was supposed to be curable to by royal touch. Later, during the days of Henry VII, sufferers were presented with coins, supposedly touched by royalty, that they could wear as amulets or charms.  The Restoration King Charles II seemingly holds the record for having touched more than 90,000 victims between 1660-1682.  Today this disease is largely treatable (cure rate around 90 percent or higher) with long-term regimens of various antibiotics, especially isoniazid and rifampin. Can be used interchangeably with the word struma. 

 

Scryer—This is a noun, derived from the verb scry (rhymes with sky). That verb is called “an aphetic form of descry by the OED, which means that it was formed by dropping the first sound of descry. To descry means “to see or perceive,” and that is one of the meanings of scry going back to the sixteenth century.  Even earlier, however, the verb meant “to see images in pieces of crystal or water” which either “reveal the future or secrets of the past or present.” Thus, a scryeris one who is a “crystal-gazer.” That it early also had an economic, along with its metaphysical, application can be seen by a 1555 quotation: “The skryer, which discerneth the veins of the mine, goeth before the workmen.”  It most recently appeared in Alex Beam’s excellent study on Joseph Smith, American Crucifixion (2014): “From his (Smith’s) humble beginnings as a diviner and scryer—a person who sees miraculous occurrences through translucent “seer” stones—in upstate New York” (p 7).  

 

Scurf suggests two things:  1) a morbid condition of the skin, where branny scales are formed and separate from the skin; OR 2) the actual scales or small laminae of epidermis that are continually being detached from the skin and often discharged in large quantity in consequence of disease. So it is either/both a condition and the sloughing off of these scales.  It’s most vivid and popular usage is figurative, to refer to the hindrances that must be sloughed off for the spiritual, moral or intellectual life to be productive. “Much scurf must be pared away…superstition, idolatry, etc. Dryden—“the scurf is worn away of each committed crime.”  One can “cumber oneself with the dead scurf of Hebrew antiquity” (Ralph W Emerson).  

 

Simony/simoniacal – It is easily enough defined in general terms but almost impossible to define precisely and effectively to eliminate. It is much easier to condemn it verbally.  Well,  simony is the buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices, or of one’s ordination, or of gaining financially by the performance of religious services, such as receiving fees for confession, absolution, marriage or burial. The concept originated in the biblical story (Acts 8) of Simon the magician who tried to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit from the apostles and was condemned to blindness for it. The selling of religious offices was condemned as early as the Canons of Chalcedon (Canon 2, 451 CE). According to that Canon, if a Bishop ordains another bishop or lesser religious officials for money, or if he should nominate someone for office for money, he will forfeit his own rank, and the one who purchases the office shall likewise be removed from the office.  So grave was the offense of simony that even infamous persons (s. v.), in England, could accuse another of it. Writers, like Dante, condemned it, while Popes and other high officials seemed regularly to practice it.  But the difficulty of defining it ought to be evident. How can you really tell, except in obvious cases, that an office is sold for money? Or, alternatively, if a grateful relative of a deceased person wants to honor the priest who performed the last rites and burial by giving that person a gift, could one understand if the priest might receive the gift so as not to offend the family who gives? “Buy a little something for yourself” might have been uttered.  What is the harm?  How, in reality, do you discern whether a powerful person’s child or relative got an office because of their virtue or their contributions in general to the church. A smart person who wanted to “buy” their relative an office wouldn’t directly do so but would make a big contribution to the capital campaign or to retiring the debt of a parish.  Hmm.  Parents today make a big contribution to elite colleges when their children are 15 or 16.  Is this “buying” admission if the child is subsequently admitted?  So, it seems that one actually caught in an act of simony is probably no worse than many who aren’t caught—just dumber. So moralists rail against “simony,” but the only guilty people are those who are so blatant about it or so foolish as not to be able to conceal their gifts. But those who subtly oil the ecclesiastical machinery and get the things they want seem to be no less guilty of it, but they will never be caught. . .

 

Skedaddle—Everyone generally knows that skedaddle, to use the refined language of the OED, means “to retreat or retire hastily or precipitately.” It first emerged in the context of the US Civil War (1861-1865) but then was quickly taken up in general usage to mean what it does today: “to run away.” Examples of its usage, like the demons cast out from the Gadarene demoniac, are Legion. “No, I told Mack to scram, beat it, skedaddle, hit the road Jack and don’t you come back.” Simple word. Useful. The only problem is that even though the word is of relatively recent coinage, and we can spot the source of that coinage, we don’t know how the word actually came about. It emerged in the context of the US Civil War, in an August 10, 1861 article in the New York Tribune, “No sooner did the traitors discover their approach than they skiddaddled.”  An explanation is given: “A phrase the Union boys up here apply to the good use the seceshers (i.e., those from the South) make of their legs in time of danger.” So, it emerged among the Northern troops.  Etymologists have dived into the fray to try to determine where this term might have emerged. Danish or Swedish roots have been suggested, but none have been convincing.  So, I give my approach here. I think the term “skedaddled” emerged from an educated Northerner who had studied his classical and Homeric Greek and ended up on the battlefield. As we know the experience of Joshua Chamberlain of Maine, the hero at Gettysburg, who was a classics scholar at Bowdoin College, was far from unique. The Homeric word for “scattering” is the verb skedannumi. It appears 19x in Homer (14 in Iliad and 5 in Odyssey) and can refer to things that scatter—the mist, troubles from the heart or, more to the point, troops scattering after a meeting (Iliad 2.398).  Attic writers also used skedannumi, though the New Testament preferred skorpizo/diaskorpizo to express the idea of scattering.Nevertheless, the Homeric education for the educated in the North before the Civil War was so pronounced in the 1850s that one can easily imagine an officer coining the word skedaddle and his troops picking it up.  

 

 

Spermatophyte—a seed-bearing plant.  About 96% of plants are spermatophytes, with the remainder being non seed-bearing plants.  Vascular plants include the angiosperm, gymnosperm and the four categories of ferns, horsetails, mosses, liverworts.  Cryptogram is word to describe the non seed-bearing plants. The two major categories of spermatophytes are angiosperm (350,000 species) and gymnosperm (850-1,000 species).  Angiosperm represent about 80% of all living plants, according to one article. Seems like Angiosperm goes back to the French in late 1820s, but spermatophyte is a word of just over 100 years of age. 

 

Terbinafine—T hydrochloride (Lamisil) is a synthetic allylamine antifungal, first approved in Europe in 1991 and then, in the USA, in 1996.  It is used to treat pityriasis versicolor (skin eruption on the trunk or extremities), fungal nail infections, and ringworm (including jock itch and athlete’s foot).  More effective for nail infections with pill than ointment or cream, though some side effects relating to the liver have been noted.  It works by preventing the fungus from making sterols, which would allow it to continue to grow and spread.  

 

Tinea—Has two definitions today. In pathology it is the technical name for ringworm or dermatophytosis. For entomologists it is the name of a small genus of moths, the larvae of which are destructive to cloth, feathers, decaying wood, etc. It is from the Latin word tinea, a gnawing worm, moth. The word first appeared in English in 1398, describing a moth that gnaws the skin; and then in 1400, to describe a corruption or ulceration in the skin, with hard crusts. Thus, it describes either an ulceration of the skin that hardens or the creature that causes the ulceration. By 1600 it attracted the attention of one of England's leading natural scientists, Thomas Muffett, who discussed it in his Insectorum sive Minimorum Animalium Theatrum (Theater of Insects), written in the late 16th century but not published until after his death, in the 17th century. Muffett’s major interest was in spiders, and some think that the English ditty about “Little Miss Muffett” relates to his daughter. The advent of Linnaean names to describe species of everything, including tinea, appeared in the late 18th century, but it was with Haworth’s huge Lepidoptera Britannica (published in several editions between 1803-1827) that it received its proper Linnaean classification. Though we don't use the word in popular speech today, it is well known to doctor and athlete alike. If one has "athlete's foot," one has tinea pedis. "Jock itch” is tinea cruris. I'll stop there.

 

Tinnitus, from tinnire, to ring in the ears.  First used in English in 1684.  Disease is tinnitus aurium.  Ancient Egyptian medical text named Crocodilopolis (ca 1600 BCE) talked about a bewitchment or humming in the ear.  Oil and frankincense were used to treat it.  Then, efforts were made to try to “cover” it with other noises.  It was called “Masking tinnitus.” Greater sound drives out lesser.  This is still the recommended method today.  Some Medieval/Renaissance folk thought that since it was a buzzing in ear, it required surgical piercing of mastoid to release “trapped wind.”  Big distinction is between true and false tinnitus. Former, rare, is where clinician can “hear” it too (“Objective tinnitus”), but most is “false”—i.e., only “heard” by the sufferer.  

 

Vicarage, parsonage, rectory, manse are four names to describe property occupied by religious figures who ministered to a local parish. The manse, derived from the Latin mansus, “dwelling, household,” denoted the home of a non-Church of England minister.  Thus, those of the Church of Scotland or Nonconformist churches called their ministerial homes “manses.”  But the home could include more than just the household structure, according to Erskine’s (1754) Principles of the Law of Scotland, “Under a manse are comprehended stable, barn and byre, with a garden.” The vicarage, as one might imagine, is the benefice or living place of a vicar.  But to figure out who a vicar was, we need to know that the word is ultimately derived from the Latin word vicarius, or a “substitute.”  Therefore a vicar, going back to the fourteenth century, was a “person acting as a priest in place of the real parson or rector.  A vicar was the incumbent or minister of a parish were tithes were appropriated/allocated, in contrast to the rector, who retained the tithes from the land controlled by the rectory or cathedral. Thus, a rector is a higher position than a vicar, and the rectory, or residence of a rector, than a vicarage. Whereas the “vicar” was a “substitute,” the “rector” was a “governor,” or “regent” or “ruler.”  The parsonage is another word for a rectory, with parson being a term for a “person of distinction.”

 

Vouchsafe—a word going back to the fourteenth century in English. Originally it was two words, “vouch” and “safe,” and sometimes even reversed.  The “vouch” was originally used in the sense of “conferring” or “bestowing,” with “safe” coming from theology and meaning “to be delivered from sin or condemnation” or “to be safe through a favor.” Originally, then, to vouchsafe was to confer a benefit or favor on someone. By the fifteenth century the verb attained its current meaning of “to give, grant or bestow in a gracious or condescending manner.” Once Shakespeare put his imprimatur on a word, it usually became widely used.  In Cymbelinehe has, “I have assailed her with music, but she vouchsafes no notice.” Milton was one who quickly used it. From the stern language of  Paradise Lost 5.884, “Those indulgent laws will not now be vouchsafed, other decrees against thee are gone forth without recall.”  The eighteenth century poet William Cowper wrote, “Nature indeed vouchsafes, for our delight, the sweet vicissitudes of day and night.” The haunting tune and words of Greensleeves have, in the sixth verse, “And that yet once before I die, Thou will vouchsafe to love me.”  I can guarantee you that a hymn beginning with “vouchsafe”won’t be much sung these days.  “Vouchsafe, O Lord, Thy presence now, Direct us in thy fear,” isn’t on anyone’s list. One hymn that is still sung today uses vouchsafe, though it is buried in a verse that isn’t sung.  The hymn is “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.”  Verse 3 runs, “Praise to the Lord, who hath fearfully, wonderfully, made thee! Health hath vouchsafed. . .” The word is just about lost from our speech and writing today, but can appropriately be used to describe a gift generously given by someone. Or, perhaps it is most useful still in prayer, “O Lord, vouchsafe to us Thy presence and Thy gifts.” From the Eastern Orthodox Church, “Vouchsafe,O Lord, to keep us this night without sin.” The St Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer has, “Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.  In that hour, vouchsafe, O my god! to hear my prayer and grant my desires. . .”  

 

Wantwit—one of those words which clearly communicates its meaning in its two syllables. A wantwit is one who “wants” or lacks “wit” or intelligence, wisdom or good sense. The word is considered “archaic” by the OED, but I think its pictorial character requires we reclaim it. It originated in the fifteenth century.  The opening scene of the Merchant of Venice has Antonio complaining to Salarino about his sadness.  He says in lines 6-7, “And such a want-wit sadness makes of me, That I have much ado to know myself.” When John Bunyan says in Pilgrim’s Progress that, “They saw one Fool, and one Want-wit, washing of an Ethiopian with intention to make him white,” we see the subtle difference between the words “fool” and “want-wit.” A vivid usage:  “Those who possess wisdom cannot just ladle it out to every wantwit and jackanapes who comes along and asks for it.” There are some efforts to try to reclaim the word today.C J Sansom said in 2007, “I just don’t like being up here among these barbarian wantwits” or, my favorite from two decades prior, “You are the founding father of wantwits.”

 

Woo--This word is to be differentiated from its double—woo-woo. That latter word is of fairly recent coinage (1980s) and is used to describe beliefs, usually in the field of spirituality or mysticism, that have no ascertainable scientific basis. From the Sunday Times in 2018, “There is a battle between woo-woo and health and fitness factions.”  If we look for a modern definition of woo, in contrast,we find it as a synonym for “lure” or “seek the favor of.”  “Pop stars are being wooed by film companies.”  But its most more robust definition, which the online dictionary says is “dated” (though I will try to resurrect it here) is “to try to gain the love of someone.”  Historically to woo someone meant almost exclusively to “sue or to solicit (a woman) in love, especially with a view to marriage; to court.”  Note that two of the three ways the OED uses to describe this “love” connection are words that find their origin in legal, rather than love circles (“sue”/”court”). Yet, this meaning of woo goes back to the hoary antiquity of the English language (i.e., the fourteenth century). Sometimes something other than a wedding is in view, as in the 1440 quotation (modernized spelling) that talks about a knight “wooith everyone, not to wed but for his paramour.” Once Shakespeare used the term, however, it had a sturdy pedigree.  From As You Like It V.ii.3, “Is’t possible, that..but seeing, you should love her? And loving woo?  And wooing, she should grant?” An older contemporary of Shakespeare could talk about the efforts of a man to “woo her, win her, wear her.”  If I were to add a fourth to that, it would be “wed” between words two and three: “woo her, win her, wed her, wear her.”  That certainly would be worth memorizing.  As is the last phrase of George Eliot’s use of it in Silas Marner,“For four years he had thought of Nancy Lammeter, and wooed her with tacit patient worship.”  My 2019 book on Chinese love poetry, with Eurydice Chen, (25 Classic Chinese Love Poems:  Translated and Interpreted) talked about four movements of love in these poems, the first of which was “wooing” the beloved. Even if trying to revive “callow” is a lost cause, bringing “woo” back to life is entirely doable. 

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