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November 2002 Archives

All the world's a stage: pule; hobbledehoy; aesthete (aestheticize); irascible; pontificate; senescent; edentate; glabrous

Water-metaphor Words: slough; limpid; wellhead-wellspring; quagmire; antediluvian; niveous

German Lingo Of Mental States: sprachgefühl; Anshauung; weltanshauung; schadenfreude; gemütlich; weltschmerz; Fahrvergnügen; katzenjammer; torschlusspanik

Words from Characters in Homer's Odyssey: circean; cimmerian; between Scylla and Charybdis; mentor; lotus eater (lotus land); siren (siren song); eumoirous


All the world's a stage ...   (Week of Nov. 4, 2002)

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
Shakespeare, As You Like It, ~1598


This week we will take words to exemplify each of Shakespeare's seven ages.


At first, the infant, / Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.

 (mewl – to cry weakly; whimper; to squall)


The combined sounds of Shakespeare's verbs suggest today's word:

pule – to whimper; to whine, as a complaining child


Today's quotation, while not new, has a modern ring: is the first and most important business of a nation to protect its women, not by any puling sentimentality of queenship, chivalry or angelhood, but by making it possible for them to earn an honest living.
– Katharine Pearson Woods, What America Owes to Women (1893).


Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel / And shining morning face, creeping like snail / Unwillingly to school.


hobbledehoy – a gawky adolescent boy


What a perfect word. Its sound captures the essence of a scarecrow-awkward lad.


For early on, girls become aware -- as much from their fathers' anguished bellows of "You're not going out dressed like that, Miss" as from the buffoonish reactions of the spotty hobbledehoys at the end-of-term disco -- of the power of clothes to seduce.

--Jane Shilling, Soft-centred punk, Times (London), October 27, 2000


Motorcyclists are generally seen as hobbledehoys and yahoos, unless they are Peers, in which case they are deemed eccentric.
– Viscount Falkland, in Parliament, 2 Nov 2000


And then the lover, / Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad / Made to his mistress' eyebrow.


Surely, among so many words for various forms of love, there must be words for this moony infatuation of sonneteering "a woeful ballad / Made to his mistress' eyebrow". Yet the closest I can find deal with the idealization but not with "man and woman".


aesthete – one of excessive or affected pursuit and admiration of beauty

aestheticize – to depict in an idealized or artistic manner


When they range too far from experience, aestheticize life too much, the pictures are disappointing.
– Village Voice


Then a soldier, / Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, / Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, / Seeking the bubble reputation / Even in the canon's mouth.


irascible – prone to anger; easily provoked or inflamed


"I could really give a s--- what you people have to say," [hockey player Tom Barrasso] snapped at [a reporter]. Obviously he doesn't have the skin of a rhino, just the temperament. "Tom the Irascible" might be a suitable nickname for the 17-year vet. When he's done with hockey, he won't be taking up a career in public relations.
– Jim Kearney, North Shore (Vancouver) News, May 1, 2000


And then the justice, / In fair round belly with good capon lined, / With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, / Full of wise saws and modern instances; / And so he plays his part.


pontificate – to speak or express opinions in a pompous or dogmatic way

The announcement of a daily lottery has caused the media to pontificate on the rights and wrongs of tempting the lumpenproletariat to part with what little cash they still have.
Sunday Times (South Africa), Oct. 6, 2002


The sixth age shifts / Into the lean and slippered pantaloon / With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; / His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide / For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, / Turning again toward childish treble, pipes / And whistles in his sound.


senescent – growing old; aging; decaying with the lapse of time


Senescence begins,

And middle age ends,

The day your descendents

Outnumber your friends.
Ogden Nash


Last scene of all, / That ends this strange eventful history, / Is second childishness and mere oblivion, / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.


We end with a couple of "sans" words, "without" words.


edentate - sans teeth

glabrous - sans hair; bald


I'm not clear whether glabrous means specifically without hair on the head, or includes loss of hair on the body. Can anyone help?

A reader responds: Glabrous means "hairless", "smooth". You wouldn't usually describe someone as glabrous when you mean "without any hair on his head"; you'd use "bald" -- unless, of course, he had no hair anywhere else either.



Water-metaphor Words (Week of Nov. 11, 2002)

This week we'll present words dealing with water, with a metaphorical sense.


slough (rhymes with "glue") - a depression filled with deep mud or mire; a stagnant swamp;

also a state of deep despair or moral degradation


In the allegory Pilgrim’s Progress by Bunyan, Christian has to cross a deep bog called the Slough of Despond.


Michael Owen is a striker who has mislaid his ability to strike. Since he is also such a high-profile player this has led to all sorts of speculation … But … he may have discovered the route by which to escape from his personal slough of despond.
– Richard Williams, The Guardian, September 25, 2002
(I gather this pertains to British football.)


limpid – clear, transparent; as, a limpid stream

also easily intelligible; clear: writes in a limpid style

also calm, serene


The mathematician's best work is art, a high perfect art, as daring as the most secret dreams of imagination, clear and limpid. Mathematical genius and artistic genius touch one another.
– Gösta Mittag-Leffler, quoted in N Rose, Mathematical Maxims and Minims

[Soprano Margaret Lloyd's] voice is so fresh, limpid, beautiful, and musically intelligent that she didn't have to affect any fake 'little —girl' voice to be utterly charming."
Chicago Tribune, November 1998


wellhead; wellspring – a source, spring, or fountain.

also a principal source; a fountainhead: a wellspring of ideas


Distinction: a wellspring is not usually just the beginning point but also source of continuing supply. (J.N. Hook, The Grand Panjandrum)


Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it; but the instruction of fools is folly. -- Prov. xvi. 22


Our public-school and university life is a great wellhead of new and irresponsible words. -- Earle


quagmire – land with a soft muddy surface.

also a difficult or precarious situation; a predicament.


While the Nobel Prize in Literature … should have signaled the pinnacle of Camus's career, it came at a time when he was struggling in the deepening quagmire of the Algerian war.
– Isabelle de Courtivron, "Rebel Without a Cause," New York Times, December 14, 1997


antediluvian – of the period before Noah's flood;

also very antiquated, so extremely old as seeming to belong to an earlier period; as, an antediluvian vehicle.


In total, the word's latin etymology means "before washing away", suggesting a need to clean things up. Antediluvian "before Noah's flood" = ante- "before" + diluvium "a flood". Going further, diluvium for "flood" traces back to mean "to wash away" (dis- "away" + -luere, comb. form of lavere "to wash").


The correctional service's own prison expert...called the penitentiary structure 'antediluvian'.
– Toronto Star, May 29, 1999


niveous – resembling snow; snowy; also snow-white


There's an odd schism in how the lexicographers handle this word.

AHD gives "resembling snow; snowy", but omits the specific definition as "white". So do the other on-line dictionaries: generally, they do not specifically note niveous as "white".

But the thesauri -- even the one at AHD's site -- consistently list niveous as a synonym for "white".



German Lingo Of Mental States (Week of Nov. 18, 2002)

Our new theme will be German "mental" words that English has adopted verbatim.


Let's face it: last week's theme was weak. So rather than play it out to the 7th word, we'll cut it off early and start the new theme early. This decision displays our:


sprachgefühl (literally, "language-feeling")

- an intuitive sense of what is linguistically appropriate

- also, the character of a language


One thing ... which is absolutely essential to literary translation, is the whole question of what the Germans call Sprachgefühl, the language sense you have.
– John Hollander, recipient of numerous awards as poet and as translator, as interviewed in The Poet's Other Voice: Conversations on Literary Translation (ed. Edwin Honig; 1985)


Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary provides a word for another aspect of the "unconscious awareness" concept of yesterday's word:


Anshauung – intuition; sense awareness or perception


English rarely uses this term alone, but more often uses another term building upon it:


weltanshauung – a comprehensive view of the world and human life; the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world

(literally, "world-view"; AHD gives "worldview" as the meaning of the term)


With respect to the First Amendment, Joseph Story, who served on the Supreme Court, explained: "The promulgation of the great doctrines in religion, can never be a matter of indifference in any well-ordered community. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive, how any civilized society can well exist without them." Of course, contemporary American society, or at least its social elite, may not still share this religious Weltanschauung.
– Gregory C. Sisk, Drake Law Review (1998; excerpted)


A delicious word:


schadenfreude – a malicious satisfaction in the misfortunes of others.

from Schaden, damage + Freude, joy. often capitalized, as it is in German.


The historian Peter Gay -- who felt Schadenfreude as a Jewish child in Nazi-era Berlin, watching the Germans lose coveted gold medals in the 1936 Olympics -- has said that it "can be one of the great joys of life."
– Edward Rothstein, Missing the Fun of a Minor Sin, New York Times, February 5, 2000

... this summer's favorite guilty pleasure -- delighting in others' misfortune, or "Schadenfreude." Between Martha Stewart, Michael Ovitz, Dennis Kozlowski, Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling and Samuel Waksal, there's plenty of misfortune of various kinds to go around and, as it turns out, plenty of delight. "Right now the Schadenfreude is flying high," said John Portmann, the author of When Bad Things Happen to Other People.
– Warren St. John, New York Times News Service, August 25, 2002. from an interesting article, noting how scientists are studying this emotion


A cheerful word:


gemütlich – warm and congenial; pleasant or friendly

(noun form gemütlichkeit – warm friendliness; amicability)


Not long ago, I was sitting, enjoying with my cherished spouse our anniversary dinner in the Hotel Post at Freudenstadt in the Black Forest ... All was gemütlich, the waiter hovered, the candles threw their beams, and joyful serenity prevailed.
– John Gould, in The Christian Science Monitor, November 14, 1997


E.Y. ("Yip") Harburg, the lyricist of the movie Wizard of Oz and of many much-loved songs, including Over the Rainbow, put a twist on this word:


The Nazi, whom we did abhor,
Is now gemütlichkeiter,
For when he isn't making war
No one could be politer.
He woos Miss Liberty with zeal;
He bows with grace and rigor,
To kiss the hand and click the heel --
Before he clicks the trigger.


weltschmerz – sadness over the evils of the world; esp. as a romantic pessimism. more generally, sentimental pessimism.

literally "world pain". Often capitalized


Coined in German by the Romantic author Jean Paul (pseudonym of Johann Paul Friedrich Richter) in an 1827 novel, but not adopted into English until nearly 50 years later. "Weltschmerz" initially came into being as a by-product of the Romanticism movement in Europe of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Romantic poets were a notably gloomy bunch and "Weltschmerz" aptly captures their melancholy and pessimism .


Carol was plunged back into last night's Weltschmerz.
– Sinclair Lewis, Main Street (1920)

German critics have written of a cosmic Weltschmerz afflicting all the noblest spirits of Europe in the era following the Napoleonic wars.
– Times Literary Supplement, August 1950


Fahrvergnügen - driving pleasure. Used by Volkswagen in an advertising campaign


The other day, I learned that Fahrvergnügen is a real word, not just a creation of the folks who brought us the New Beetle."
– Andrew Gore, Experience iBookgruven Macworld, Jul. 2001.


Already television viewers in the U.S. have seen signs of a heightened linguistic confidence on the part of the Germans. One example: a Volkswagen ad campaign that centers on the word Fahrvergnugen, or joy in driving--however mispronounced it may be in the commercials. Only a few years ago, the use of a German word in an advertisement in English would have been avoided, if only because the sound of German was associated with the bad guys in World War II movies. Today Fahr--and other Vergnugen--may be here to stay.
– Daniel Benjamin, "And Now for Sprachvergnugen", in Time, Jan. 9, 1990


I've not checked whether OED has accepted Fahrvergnügen. And since I don't speak german, can anyone tell me what Sprachvergnugen would mean?


A reader replies: Sprachvergnugen means "joy in speaking".


Another reader adds:

Sprachverderber - a corrupter of language.

Sprachverein - a linguistic society.

Sprachneuerer - a language reformer

Sprachregelung - prescribed phraseology

Sprachschnitzer - a grammatical blunder

Sprachshöpferisch - creative in the use of language

Isn't German wonderful ?


Still another reader adds: And you may call yourself a sprachwissenschaftler if you consider yourself a linguist. That is, if you can pronounce it.


katzenjammer - a hangover (also, a discordant clamor)

from Katzen = cats + Jammer = distress, wailing


Alas! as I was to learn at a later period, intellectual intoxication too, has its katzenjammer.
– Jack London, John Barleycorn, ch. XXI, (1913)


Ending this theme with a worderful word:


torschlusspanik (literally "shut door panic") -

a sense of panic in middle age brought on by the feeling that life is passing you by


One type of failure afflicts people in their forties and fifties-the depression and panic that comes from realizing that, even though they have successful careers, some of their goals will never be met. German being the language of the consulting room, this condition is known as Torschlusspanik, or the panic due to the closing of gates. This, and the other crises of life, lead approximately 20 percent of executives to suffer from psychiatric problems, with depression and substance abuse leading the list.
– David S. McIntosh, Center for Business Information, reviewing The Leadership Mystique by Manfred Kets de Vries

But the term has broad application. One finds it defined or applied as:
middle-aged men pursuing young women for a final fling "before the gates close"
– young women fearing they will not be married until they are to old to have children
– the woman who longs to rediscover the excitement of youth and fears being left "on the shelf" (OED)
– a rush to get in on a financial opportunity before the door shuts: either to buy (in a financial bubble),  or to panic-sell when the bubble bursts



Words from Characters in Homer's Odyssey (Week of Nov. 25, 2002)


We have done a theme on words from Iliad-characters. Quite naturally, we turn now to Odyssey-characters.


circean - pleasing, but noxious
after the enchantress Circe (Odyssey XIV), who first charmed her victims and then changed them to the forms of beasts


Like an Irish Circe, the nymph in Portrait has the potential to drag Stephen down into the emerald-green nets of Dublin paralysis.
– Suzette Henke, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Narcissist, 1997


It has been theorized that the enchantress Circe may also be the source of the word "church", which comes from OE circe.¹ OED traces this Old English-circe back to a word unconnected with the Odysseus-Circe (specifically, to Greek kurios = lord), but at least source one doubts that there are two different kinds of "circe" in this sense. I cannot evaluate whether that doubter is crackpot.


¹OED Dict. of Etymology.  Curiously, MW and AHD give only cirice, which OED lists as an alternate form. Webster's 1828 gave "Sax. Circe, circ or cyric" (for this I quote a secondary source).


cimmerian - very dark or gloomy


"the Cimmerians who live enshrouded in mist and darkness which the rays of the sun never pierce neither at his rising nor as he goes down again out of the heavens, but the poor wretches live in one long melancholy night" (Odyssey XI)


Nepenthe lay veiled in Cimmerian gloom, darker than starless midnight--a darkness that could be felt; a blanket, as it were, hot and breathless, weighing upon the landscape. All was silent.
South Wind by Norman Douglas (1868-1952), British writer and diplomat


between Scylla and Charybdis - in a position where avoidance of one danger exposes one to another danger


A strategy based on Washington's willingness to help Taiwan become militarily self-sufficient offers the only realistic prospect of avoiding the Scylla looming as a result of the Clinton administration's policy of ambivalent appeasement or the Charybdis created by American warhawks who want to give an explicit pledge to shield Taiwan with U.S. military forces.
–Policy analysis, 1998, by Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato Institute


mentor – a wise and trusted counselor or teacher
also v. tr. and v.intr. to serve as such a counselor or tearcher, esp. in a job-setting

1750, from Mentor, character in the Odyssey (often actually Athene in disguise), friend of Odysseus and adviser of Odysseus' son Telemachus; perhaps ult. meaning "adviser," since the name appears to be an agent noun of mentos "intent, purpose, spirit, passion".


It’s sad but true that if you focus your attention on housework and meal preparation and diapers, raising children does start to look like drudgery pretty quickly. On the other hand, if you see yourself as nothing less than your child’s nurturer, role model, teacher, spiritual guide, and mentor, your days take on a very different cast.
–Joyce Maynard, Parenting Magazine (June/July 1995).


Odysseus comes upon a people who, from feeding on the lotus, live in a drugged, indolent state. His men fall under the influence of drugs there and loose all ambition to return to their homes and real life. Tennyson's poem The Lotos-Eaters also has this sense of languid unreality, of "a land / In which it seemed always afternoon. / All round the coast the languid air did swoon, / Breathing like one who hath a weary dream." There, "with faces pale, ... / The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came."

In your Wordcrafter's judgment the dictionary definitions do not capture this sense of drugged unreality.
lotus eater - a lazy person devoted to pleasure and luxury
lotus land - a place or state of languid contentment.

But in practical use, in US speech "lotusland" often means Southern California or to Los Angeles (reflecting the unreality); in Canada-speak it often means British Columbia. Residents of British Columbia are proud to call their home "Lotusland".


A Manchild in Lotusland: Inside the big world of Shaquille O'Neal
-- Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker, May 20, 2002 (For those unfamiliar: Shaquille O'Neal is an extremely large man who stars for the Los Angeles basketball team.)

As winter approaches, cyclists on the roads dwindle like autumn leaves. Lotusland residents who gloated to Easterners about wearing shorts in October resign themselves to umbrellas, antifreeze, and an extra layer of insulating fat.
-– Lois Sommerfield, Don't Put That Bike Away, Newsletter of the Vancouver (Canada) Bicycle Club (Nov. 2002)


siren – a dangerously fascinating woman.
More commonly used in the phrase:
siren song – an enticing plea or appeal, especially one that is deceptively alluring


after those, in the Odyssey, whose beautiful singing tempted sailors to sail toward them into dangerous, fatal waters


Extremism and violence are our greatest enemies, our greatest foes. We must not listen to the siren song of the bigots and extremists who cloak themselves in false spirituality in an attempt to divide and weaken us.
– US Secretary of State Colin Powell; welcoming remarks in hosting a November 18 Ramadan Iftaar ("breaking the fast") dinner for American Muslim and Arab American community leaders


We end the week with extremely rare word that expresses a lovely concept


eumoirous - happy because innocent and good


The quintessential guy in the white hat, [actor Roy] Rogers seemed to be a truly eumoirous cowboy also. Charming, wholesome and constitutionally pleasant, he made 87 Westerns, and built his career on fighting fairly and compassionately.
– Kevin Johnson, whose spizzerinctum site introduces obscure words by using them to report the current news


This word, though not in OED, can be found in other commercial word-sources. It is my speculation that it comes from the chararater Eumuaios, a man low of social stature (a swineherd) but great of spirit. (Odyssey, Books XIV-XV)


A reader notes:  In fact 'eumoiros' comes from the paritcle 'eu' meaning good and 'moira' meaning fate. Eumoiros is thus someone who has a good fate, hence happy. I don't think it has to do with Eumaios.