This week we present words from the goddesses, gods and other names of myth. Some are unfamiliar; some are so ordinary and prosaic that you wouldn’t realize that they are godly.
mnemonic – adj.: aiding memory; relating to memory. noun: a letter- or word-pattern to aid memory
[Akin to the Greek titaness Mnemosyne ["memory, remembrance"], the mother of the Muses.]
For example, if you remember “How I wish I could calculate pi," and count the letters in each word, you will get 3.14152 – which is π to six decimal places. Longer versions are:
3.14159265 — But I must a while endeavour to reckon right.
3.14159265 — May I have a white telephone, or pastel color?
3.14159265358979 — How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics.
3.14159265358979323846264 — add to the above, “All of thy geometry, Herr Planck, is fairly hard.”
3.1415926535897932384626433832795 — add instead “and if the lectures were boring or tiring, then any odd thinking was on quartic equations again.”
. . .Now I will a rhyme construct,
. . .By chosen words the young instruct.
. . .Cunningly devised endeavour,
. . .Con it and remember ever.
. . .Widths in circle here you see,
. . .Sketched out in strange obscurity.
The word mnemonic comes from a plain old Greek word (link). Even the name of the Greek goddess, Mnemosyne, is a noun in Greek meaning 'remembrance'.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
If I could read Greek I could probably understand that link. I could understand these, though:
Mnemonic - Online Entomology Dictionary
Mnemonic - Wikipedia
Mnemosyne - Wikipedia
Why do you need to read Greek to understand it? The definitions are right there in English.
Yesterday we remarked that the word mnemonic is “akin to the Greek titaness Mnemosyne.”
titanic – colossal in size or scope, in strength, force or power
– Jerusalem Post, Aug. 19, 2007
They were sons of Ouranos (“Sky”), the first ruler of the godly cosmos. Ouranos’ other sons were gigantic and full of raw power (gods of various storms, thunder and lightning) and Ouranos, fearing them, imprisoned them in the belly of their mother Gaia (“Earth”).
Gaia, naturally incensed, incited the Titan sons to rebel by ambushing Sky as he descended to lie upon Earth. Four Titans, posted at the four corners of the earth, held Sky fast while a fifth, their leader, castrated Sky. The Titans then ruled the cosmos.
The Freudian aspects are obvious!
Speaking of Ancient Greece - here is an easy question: What is the difference between "Epicureanism" and "Hedonism"?
The definitions are, but the words being defined aren't.
but you know what the word is, it's the Greek word that's the source of "mnemonic". It means "of or for remembrance or memory", "for record or reminder", "having a good memory", and the adverb form means "from a well-stored memory, accurately and fully".This message has been edited. Last edited by: goofy,
What is the difference between "Epicureanism" and "Hedonism"?
Well, Epicureanism is a materialist philosophy and a kind of hedonism. One of my favorite poems in Latin is Lucretius' De rerum natura (On the nature of things).
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
Here’s a familiar word that you probably did not know is a god-word.
The rustic god Pan was said to be responsible for sudden, overwhelming and irrational terror. But interestingly, some sources relate this to the spooky terror of lonely places, and others to the terror of war and battle. Thus:
– Plutarch's Lives; note in Langhorne translation (quoted from 1803 edition, vol. iv p.114)
Pan, like other gods who dwelt in forests, was dreaded by those who pass through the woods by night, for the gloom and loneliness of such scenes dispose the mind to superstitious fears. Hence sudden fright without any visible cause was ascribed to Pan, and called a Panic terror.
– Bulfinch's Mythology (ellipses omitted)
I surmise that Pan is the root of the word "pandemonium" as well.
And pan-fried catfish is heavenly.
Pandemonium was coined by Milton as the name of the capital of Hell. It is from Greek pan 'all' (it is the neuter form of pas) and daimonion 'demon'. Panic comes as Wordcrafter says from the Greek god Pan: panikos 'of or pertaining to Pan'. The two words in Greek are thought to be from different roots. The p in Pan is from a PIE p, but the p in pas, pan, is thought to be from a labio-velar kw.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
Stygian – literary: hellish; very dark and dismal
[from the River Styx, an underworld river in Greek mythology. Much more rare than I had thought.]
And in the middle of the night in Stygian darkness where you couldn't see you hand in front of your eyes, I had to creep out of my hole in a downpour and sit beside a machine gun …
– soldier’s letter, quoted in Louise Steinman, The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War
Thirty-thousand outcast Needlewomen working themselves swiftly to death … Thirty-thousand wretched women, sunk in that putrefying well of abominations; they have oozed-in upon London, from the universal Stygian quagmire of British industrial life …
– Thomas Carlyle, quoted in G. B. Tennyson, A Carlyle reader
The river Styx, presented yesterday, was one of five rivers in the ancient Greek Hades. “Stygian” is not a common word, but the other four are named so rarely that this may be my only legitimate chance to present them. One was Phlegethon, a burning, fiery river of blood. Very like the modern Western concept of Hell.
Phlegethon – a stream of fire or fiery light
This could be a useful word. The quotes are strikingly vivid.
Source for two quotes below (ellipses omitted) should be noted in advance. The first is from The Last Days of Pompeii by Bulwer-Lytton (who is better known for authoring the deathless line, “It was a dark and stormy night.”). The last is from a florid 1909 poem that scathingly condemns British industrialists when “the Congo Free State in Africa was a significant source of natural rubber latex, mostly gathered by forced labour.” (wikipedia)
An Earthly Phlegethon
Details of the Great Petroleum Fire Near Pittsburg
An Area of Ten Acres Covered with Oleaginous Flames
– headline and subheads, Chicago Tribune, June 14, 1875 (“oleaginous” = oily; greasy)
England, hast thou forgot that gen’rous time,
When forth in Freedom’s cause, in ev’ry clime
Valiant thou stoodst …No man shall be a slave!
Yet mark how Satan venting there his spite,
With death and agony in sulph’rous stench –
See how the fumes of hell affront the skies.
Pall-like o’erhanging fairest Afric vales,
Lurid and resonant with piteous wails,
Fiends at their pleasure – mortals torment grim
These harried, driven, lashed to quest of pelf –
Whole nations racked, denied a slave’s least pittance;
Sure here some purpose high is not forgot –
Surely a good to balance – say then what!
How must outweigh such Phlegethon of pain –
A crowned monopoly’s commercial gain!
Unctuously laud thine age for gift of gum,
Careless of how the gift accursed is come –
Heedless of thy stricken, helpless brother,
Done to their death by hundred tortures nameless,
All in the light of Christian day and shameless.
Proving of Christian truth but Hell’s own fires –
Then restful roll thy way on rubber tyres.
–Taranaki (NZ) Herald, Dec. 31, 1909
(Pyri)phlegethon shares an etymology with phlogiston theory, the precursor of modern chemistry's understanding of burning and oxidation.
That latter word itself is from the Greek oxys "sharp, acid" (etymonline.com).
I assume it also relates to the four ancient elements despite Becher's seeming denial?
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. -J. Krishnamurti
After two days of obscure words, let’s present a familiar one. It needs no definition, but you may not know it is a goddess-word. And since the last entry was very long, this one will be very brief.
cereal – etymology: from Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, particularly grain.
In this statue in the Vatican, the goddess holds grain in her right hand.
Ceres' mother was Ops, of whom wiki says:
' The Latin word ops means "riches, goods, abundance, gifts, munificence, plenty". The word is also related to opus, which means "work", particularly in the sense of "working the earth, ploughing, sowing". '
– The Guardian, March 10, 2004
Atropos gave her name to the plant Atropena belladonna, or deadly nightshade, so poisonous that two berries can kill a child.* As far back as Roman times the poison was used for suicide (Cleopatra reputedly considered using it, tried it on a slave, and concluded that death-by-asp would be less painful), for murder, and in small doses to confound enemy troops, since it produces hallucination and confusion.
The active ingredient – called atropine – acts by blocking the receipt of certain nerve signals. For example, applied as an eyedrop it blocks the signals that contract the eyes’ pupils in bright light. In the 1600s and 1700s, ladies used the juice of this plant in just this way, as a cosmetic to widen the eyes and produce a doe-eyed effect. Hence the plant’s alternate name belladonna, or “beautiful lady”.
More importantly, that same effect can turn atropine from poison into life-saver. Nerve gases kill by over-stimulating the nerve cells (by blocking the enzyme that removes the stimulating chemical, ACTH). The nightshade’s chemical counteracts that over-stimulation by blocking the receptors that respond to ACTH. A syringe of atropine is standard issue for soldiers in war zones in the event of a nerve gas attack.
*Some sources say it is this plant, a common weed in my area, but apparently that’s an error.
And the others were . . . ?
That's bittersweet nightshade in my area, Solanum dulcamara. All parts of the plant are poisonous to people and some, but not all, animals. The plant is primarily spread by birds that eat the fleshy part of the fruit and regurgitate or poop out the seeds. The plants contain containing the toxins solanine and dulcamarine, though the toxicity varies depending on "light, soil, climate, and growth stage" (The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms By Nancy J. Turner, Patrick Von Aderkas. 2009, p. 150). According to FEIS database, "A handbook on poisonous plants indicated that bittersweet nightshade is only likely to cause symptoms in humans who have eaten 10 or more unripe berries; a fatal dose would require about 200 unripe berries." The berries are reported as initially sweet quickly followed by extreme bitterness, so I doubt you could eat 10, let alone 200. The plant is native to Europe but is found in most states in the U.S., especially in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes, and the Northeast, and in most provinces of Canada.
The flowers are usually purple, but some plants have white flowers.
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