September 2006 Archives
Eponyms from the Ancient Greeks: apollo, Icarian, daedal, solon, pyrrhonism, Apollonian, Dionysian (fatuous), Zoilus, Zoilist (flyter)
Vibrant Verbs: simper, divagate, wamble, calumniate (obloquy), sunder, obnubilate, roister
Words of Double Meaning: confabulate (dowager), talus, vamp, slough, tump, mead, isinglass (bung)
The French Revolution: tumbrel, bastille (oubliette), sans culotte, ancien rιgime, franc-tireur, tricolor
Eponyms from the Ancient Greeks
return to a favorite theme: eponyms, or words from the
names of real or fictional characters. A few years ago we've had themes of
eponyms from Homer's Iliad
and Odyssey, and from the Muses.
This week we look at more eponyms from the ancient Greeks.
apollo a young man of great physical beauty
This also points to the central problem of
Andrew Ferguson, National Review,
the tale of Daedalus and Icarus:
Icarian soaring too high for safety; applying to ambitious or presumptuous acts which end in failure or ruin
In the view of some social philosophers and
historians, space flight is an Icarian venture at its bestand an extravagance
at its worst.
daedal of ingenious design; or skillfully made, artistic
'What a daedal maze,' said
Stephen, referring to the workings of his mind ...
Patrick O'Brian, The Surgeon's Mate
... the best of the projects in the magazine were truly daedal: ingenious, cleverly intricate and diversified.
Eric Kraft, Taking Off
solon a wise lawgiver,
or a legislator [often sarcastic]
[from Solon, an early lawgiver of
Markup sessions of the budget committees in
both houses [of Congress]
were postponed until mid-month as the solons
pondered how to spend the money.
Insight on the News,
skepticism; universal doubt
[Pyrrho, founder of a school of skeptics in
I'm fond of the first quote here.
Scepticism is a highly civilized trait,
though, when it declines into pyrrhonism, it is one of
which civilizations can die. Where scepticism is strength, pyrrhonism
is weakness: for we need not only the strength to defer a decision, but the
strength to make one.
T.S. Eliot, Notes Toward a Definition of Culture
I have often been reproached with the aridity of my genius; a deficiency of imagination has been imputed to me as a crime; and the Pyrrhonism of my opinions has at all times rendered me notorious.
Edgar Allen Poe, Ms. Found in a Bottle
two words are often used together, and often to the denigration of the latter.
I'll give a variety of quotes.
Apollonian 1. characterized by clarity, harmony, and restraint 2. serenely high-minded; noble
Dionysian of an ecstatic, orgiastic, or irrational nature; frenzied or undisciplined
[from Dionysos, god of wine and revelry]
a tension between
Dionysiac passion and Apollonian reason
Michael Dirda, Book by Book: Notes on
Romantic notions of political creativity persist: In The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg invoked Nietzsche's distinction between Apollo and Dionysus to explain Bill Clinton's "unheralded perseverance and political skill" in creating a new "political space" in
Michael Knox Beran, National Review, Nov. 6, 2000
The Dionysian has definitively triumphed over the Apollonian. No grace, no reticence, no measure, no dignity, no secrecy, no depth, no limitation of desire is accepted.
Theodore Dalrymple, Our Culture, What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses
fatuous silly and pointless (noun: fatuity)
Zoilus; Zoilist a carping, malignant critic [for origin, see quote]
One of the funnier sketches in Mel Brooks's
spoof epic, The History of the World: Part One, shows mankind's first artist
daubing a prehistoric mammoth on the wall of a cave. He stands back to admire
his work. Along comes mankind's first critic, who unzips his animal skin and
pisses on it.
There is a large grain of truth in Brooks's joke. One of the origins of modern newspaper reviewing - the cuttingest edge of criticism - are the "Zoilists" of the late-16th century. The name derives from Zoilus, the malignant critic of Homer. Zoilus was the man who dared say that the author of the Odyssey wasn't all that he was cracked up to be. It was the role of Zoilists (lovely word) to "carp" (another lovely word). Like their modern version, "flyters" (traders in literary insult), they had only one mission in critical life: to piss on the work of art. The only qualifications for the job were a full bladder and a brass neck.
John Sutherland, The Independent,
flyter obs. one who scolds; a scold.
week we'll have some words of action, some vigorous verbs you can
simper to smile in a silly, self-conscious, often coy manner
One of my friends used to simper
at men and say things like "but you're so intelligent", which used to
make me want to hit him and vomit over her.
divagate to wander about; to stray from one place or subject
to another. (In other words, to ramble or to digress.)
[Can someone find out whether this is akin to diverge or to vague?]
This seems to be used more in the sense of rambling thoughts than physically rambling about. But OED give the lovely quote, "So does a child's balloon divagate upon the currents of the air."
Poets talk of maidens' eyes, and divagate
endlessly upon them
John Crowley, Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land
But now we must divagate from our major themes
Chester G. Starr, The
wamble to move unsteadily or with a weaving or rolling motion (noun: an upset stomach)
You meet frequently for dinner, after work,
split whole liters of the house red, then wamble the two blocks
east, twenty blocks south to your apartment
Lorrie Moore, Self-Help
calumniate to make maliciously false statements about
(noun: calumny malicious falsehood made to injure another's reputation)
he will again begin to calumniate
me with all the venom at his disposal.
George Orwell, Burmese Days
He has crowned the audacity of this debate by venturing to rise here and calumniate me. I will read from the debate to show what I said in response to that calumny
Senator Charles Sumner, U.S. Senate,
Let's carry the last quote a little further.
he has alleged facts that are entirely
without foundation, in order to heap upon me some personal obloquy.
no person with the upright form of man can be allowed, without violation to
all decency, to switch out from his tongue the perpetual stench of offensive
personality. Sir, that is not a proper weapon of debate, at least, on this
floor. The noisome, squat, and nameless animal, to which I now refer, is not a
proper model for an American Senator. Will the Senator from
MR. DOUGLAS: I will; and therefore will not imitate you, sir. I would certainly never imitate you in that capacity, recognizing the force of the illustration.
obloquy abusive public condemnation
sunder to split apart (implies by violence: to wrench apart)
A single word from the white men [at a sale
of slaves] was enough against all our wishes, prayers, and entreaties to sunder
forever the dearest friends, dearest kindred, and strongest ties known to human
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written by Himself
Chris Chant et al., Patrick O'Brian's Navy: The Illustrated Companion to Jack Aubrey's World
obnubilate to becloud; to obscure
[from L. for cloud; akin to nuance]
This very obscure word seems more often used to mean making obscure to oneself, not to others.
It is the pity of the world, Dr McAdam, to see
a man of your parts obnubilate his mind with the juice of the
Patrick O'Brian, The
how badly does the image of who we want to be obnubilate our sense of who we actually are?
Herman Stark, A Fierce Little Tragedy (etc.)
end our weekly theme with a vigorous verb of convivial celebration. Let the
roister to celebrate noisily and boisterously
They drink his wine, devour his stores,
break up the furniture for firewood, roister all night, and sleep
Bernard Evslin, The Adventures Of Ulysses
Let us have language worthy of our world, a democratic style where rich and well-born nouns can roister with some sluttish verb yet find themselves content and uncomplained of.
Michael Dirda, Book by Book: Notes on
Words of Double Meaning
week we'll look at words that have two very different meanings, and I hope the
comparison and contrast will make you smile. Let's start with a word that also
fits last week's theme of vibrant verbs.
confabulate [akin to fable]
1. to converse casually together; to chat
2. Psychology: to fill in gaps in one's memory with fabrications that one believes to be facts
The two proud dowagers,
Lady Lynn and Lady Ingram, confabulate together.
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
It is not that they lie in the experimental situation, but that they confabulate; they fill in the gaps, guess, speculate, mistake theorizing for observing.
Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained
Thus the coping strategies of the two hemispheres are fundamentally different. The left hemisphere's job is to create a belief system or model and to fold new experiences into that belief system. If confronted with some new information that doesn't fit the model, it relies on Freudian defense mechanisms to deny, repress or confabulate anything to preserve the status quo.
Oliver Sacks, et al., Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind
dowager a widow of high social rank who has a title and property because of her marriage
talusΉ (plural taluses) a sloping mass of loose rock at the foot of a cliff (also, a like slope of an earthwork or tapering wall)
Bricks had spilled down in a talus
to the floor of the tunnel. Boxer half scrambled, half slid in, raising clouds
talus² (plural tali) the anklebone [also called the astragalus]
Hairston underwent surgery in November to
remove the talus bone from his left ankle. He described it as a
minor procedure during which he had a bone chip removed.
Today's two meanings come from separate roots, so they are technically separate words with identical spelling and pronunciation.
vamp 1. the upper front part of a shoe or boot 2. [abbreviation of vampire] a woman who uses sexual attraction to exploit men (verb: to so use)
It went with his elegant clothes, his shoes
with woven vamps, the glaze of his hair.
Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex: A Novel
Playing Lola calls for a woman alluring enough to seduce a man into selling his soul to the devil. Gillentine succeeded in creating a vamp who prowls across the stage
Kate Mattingly, Dance Magazine, June, 2006
first I must have a new dress. I can't vamp this man with these dirty rags I am in.
Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
slough 1. a swamp or mire 2. a
situation of lack of progress or activity
[rhymes with 'bough' or, in the
Our electioneering racers have started for
Oh what a rare sport it will be! Through thick and thin, through
mire and dirt, through bogs and fens and sloughs, dashing
and splashing and crying out, the devil take the hindmost.
John Adams, quoted in his biography by David McCullough
the sloughs of abjection and misery
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
slough [rhymes with 'rough'] to cast off or shed skin or other outer layer; the item so shed [also fig., as in quote]
But here in the North I would slough off my
Southern ways of speech.
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
tump (noun) a hillock; or a clump of trees, shrubs, or grass, esp. in a dry spot in a bog
Parts of our spongy tract [the definition of
a 'novel'] seem more fictitious than other parts, it is true: near the middle,
on a tump of grass, stand Miss Austen
intelligent remark known to me will define the tract as a whole. All we can say
of it is that it is bounded by two chains of mountains
the opposing ranges of
Poetry and of History
E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel
I've never myself been a true football fan;
I just like watching the players tump over on the field.
Kinky Friedman, Spanking Watson
have already seen one definition of today's word.
mead a meadow
mead an alcoholic drink of fermented honey and water
Small-volume luxury food imports [to
Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
isinglass 1. a gelatin obtained from fish; previously used to clarify wine
Leave the mead to ferment and when
this has ended, put in a quarter of an ounce of isinglass
(available from wine-making supply stores) and bung the cask
Raymond Buckland, Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft
isinglass 2. chiefly US: mica in thin transparent sheets, a heat-resistant substitute for glass
The fire roared and the flames winked yellow
behind the little isinglass windows in the front of the stove.
John Steinbeck, East of Eden
I went out and saw the thin pools of water standing on the black ground, like sheets of isinglass.
Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men
Bonus word: bung the plug for a hole in a barrel, etc. verb to close with a bung
The French Revolution
week we look at words that come from the French Revolution or are strongly
connected with it.
tumbrel; tumbril a two-wheeled cart, especially a farmer's cart that can be tilted to dump a load (used to carry prisoners to execution during the French Revolution)
[at a WWII amphibious invasion] Everyone
knew now that just as sure as God made little green Japs, the Higgins boats
ferrying in the first Marine waves might as well be tumbrels.
William Manchester, Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War
bastille a jail
said that the government's
actions in the case are "very disturbing." "This man has been
held for three years basically in a Bastille, and now it
turns out he has not even been prosecuted with those things that he has
previously been tarred with," Fidell said.
Cox News Service, Nov. 23, 2005
The chairwoman said gravely that the matter would be referred to the Conference Arrangements Committee, where it will probably disappear like a dead rat in a Bastille oubliette.
Bonus word: oubliette a dungeon reached only by a trap door it
[From French oublier 'to forget']
sans culotte 1. a lower-class Parisian republican in the French Revolution 2. an extreme republican or revolutionary
at worst the leaders made their decisions
without regard to the people, and if some sans culottes later
raised objections, such protest could be overcome
James M. Burns, Leadership
ancien rιgime a political or social system that has been replaced by a more modern one
The Odessa Lawn Tennis Club is an unlikely setting for the start of a revolution. However, the new guard in charge of the British game, having swept aside the ancien rιgime, is hoping that this weekend's Davis Cup tie here against
franc-tireur a sniper or sharpshooter, working outside the regular army
At least 150 Syrian soldiers
were cut to
pieces by mortar and machine-gun fire amid the mines. When they reached the
Lebanese positions, they began executing the Aounists as franc-tireurs
irregular partisans who had disobeyed the rules of war.
tricolor 1. a flag having three stripes 2. the
There is a good deal of flap about the Iraqi and Kurdish flags, each a tricolor.
The Kurdish regional government has banned
the use of the Iraqi flag on public buildings as a symbol of oppression under
Saddam Hussein. Maliki has demanded the use of the national tricolor
and said only parliament can decide on a new flag.
In Batman, repression approached ridiculous levels: because traffic lights matched the Kurdish tricolor, local authorities changed the green lights to blue.