This week we talk of types of people. We start with a term that calls up the pleasures of a truly excellent dinner: fine food, and fine conversation.
Now, one could argue that this term has never really been a real word-in-use, but rather just a curiosity so attractive that lovers of obscure words can't resist trotting it out in word-lists and the like. But let's not be critical. Even if there isn't such a word, there ought to be, and if others can enjoy it, so can we. Besides, it gives me the chance to share a truly awful pun in the 1966 quote.
deipnosophist – a person skilled in the art of dinner-table conversation
[From the Greek treatise Deipnosphistai, written almost 18 centuries ago, where philosophers converse at a banquet. The term has always been too rare for usage to provide a good sense of its meaning, but until about 1900 it seemed to refer to enjoyment of fine cuisine, rather than of the fine conversation with that cuisine. (see 1910 quote; also 2006 quote?)]
– TAKE ONE, Spring, 2000
[TV] Panel Moderator John Charles Daly, of "What's My Line," was outraged one Sunday when a member of his varsity squad hailed him as a Deipnosophist. John's composure was restored, however, when he learned that the word refers to a man who is a master of dinner table conversation.
. . .And speaking of Mr. Daly, John Merrill asks if you've heard about the sad fate of the poor little cannibal maid? HER MODERATOR.
– Bennett Cerf, in Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, IN), May 28, 1966
By Apicius, the original dinner deipnosophist, the main thing is to enjoy the meal, whatever you call it.
– The Times, Aug. 6, 2006
His master-passion, as we have seen, was at the table, but as a corollary to his pleasures as a deipnosophist he was devoted to conversation.
– Alexander Meyrick Broadley, Doctor Johnson and Mrs. Thrale (1910)
Brings to mind the famous gathering of such special guests:
What a great word! Quinion has a piece about it.
So, being of Greek origins (the word, not me)...
We can add the bountiful supply of prefixes and suffixes given to us by the Greeks. (However, I don't think they were much for infixes)
So dysdeipnosophist would be lousy at the table...
A teledeipnosophist would be great at either: the opposite end of one of those 30 or 40 foot tables with one person at either end - OR - could provide stimulating dinner conversation while on a speakerphone conference call. If the table was reeeeaaaallllyyy long, it might require both to meet the need/definition.
dandiprat – (in sport or contempt) a little fellow
[dandy + brat]
– Sari Robins, One Wicked Night
wowser – a obnoxiously puritanical killjoy [but see below]
Let's provide a quote in long form, to give you the full flavor.
. . .You are incessantly telling me what to do and how to do it, Maxie thought, but did not say. Everyone … seem to admire her having the freedom and the nerve to take off on her own thought it sounded interesting and exciting. Everyone, that is, but Carol and her wowser of a husband, who felt that they had a position and an image to maintain that were somehow threatened by a sixty-two-year-old "vagrant" mother. If they had their way, she wouldn't even return to Alaska periodically but would live tidily tucked up in some health care facility for senior citizens – near them – where they could keep an eye on her instability – with a power of attorney over her bank account.
– Sue Henry, Dead North: An Alaska Mystery
The word has another meaning, which the dictionaries have not yet picked up:
wowser – something so excellent as to be eye-catching and attention-grabbing
– Joyce Lain Kennedy, Cover Letters for Dummies
Journalist Kurt Eichenwald is making news again with his Dec. 19, 2005, New York Times wowser about child pornography on the Internet
– Slate Magazine, March 8, 2007
neophyte – a person who is new to a subject, skill, or belief
[Greek neophutos 'newly planted'. can particularly mean a religious-order novice, or a newly ordained priest – a sense echoed in the second quote]
– CNN, Mar. 22, 2007
How do you know? … you are as ignorant of the matter as this cameo head … You have no right to preach to me; you neophyte, that have not passed the porch of life, and are absolutely unacquainted with its mysteries.
– Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Today's term is the opposite of yesterday's 'neophyte'. The surprisingly few dictionaries that have it would lead you to think of it as "an experienced veteran," with positive connotations. But I see negative connotations too.
war horse – a respected veteran, reliable and competent – but uninspired and a little bit past his time [also used for things, such as a play or hymn]
– Packet On-line News, Mar. 15, 2007
No disrespect to the thirty-seven year old war horse, but we must be honest. Oleg has been referred to as the most inimitably beatable heavyweight champ since Leon Spinks back in the 1970’s.
– EastsideBoxing.com, Mar. 7, 2007
[Chirac, stating that he will not seek a third term,] spent most of the address expressing remarkable emotion for a political war-horse who has cultivated the lofty, regal image of an elder statesman among Western leaders.
– Daily Mail (Charleston, WV), Mar. 12, 2007, from LA Times
[speaking of a theater drama] In England, it's a very well-known, tried-and-trusted war-horse. It worked there because we reinvented it for a contemporary audience.
– Playbill.com, NY, Feb. 23, 2007
Hmmmm... So one who's recently deceased is a neophyte?
dotard – an old person, especially one who is weak or senile (in his dotage)
leman – (archaic) a lover or sweetheart
– CBS News, Jan. 15, 2007
Taxes, taxes, taxes so the old dotard may satisfy his leman, or satisfy his itch to rule France …
– Anya Seton and Philippa Gregory, Katherine
Speaking of senile, the female form "anile" is sometimes misunderstood, probably the same folks who object to "niggardly" on racial grounds.
A sour old marriage arranger is a lemen-aide?