Erubesce and Others
Bill Long 4/20/06
While floating down the "stream" of words describing bodily movements, I became distracted by an inviting rivulet in the Century Dictionary just as I was about to make it to eructation (belching). Let's keep the belch for a later essay, but now let's survey an incredible richness of terms which surround the burp, beginning with a word for "redness."
A Term for "Reddening"
I am not ashamed or embarrassed to start with terms describing how we redden when ashamed or embarrassed. The word is "erubescent" or "erubescency." I love the sound of the word; apart from the word "efflorescence," it is one of my favorite-sounding words in English. Say it out loud and stop and pause as the "s"-sound sibilates and escapes from your lips. I recall reading Edgar Allen Poe's short story "Tales of the Grotesque and the Arabesque" in 8th grade, and though I don't remember a word of the stories, I recall be fascinated by the "esce" or "esque" sound in our language. As the Century informs us, erubescence means "a becoming or growing red; a blush." Erubsecent is, appropriately enough, defined as growing red or blushing. Though erubescent does not appear very frequently in verse or prose (we have erubsecent complexion or erubescent fire), the last stanza of Alan Seeger's Le Nue uses it well:
"And soft and warm as in the magic sphere,
Deep-orbed as in its erubescent fire,
So in my heart thine image would appear,
Curled round with the red flames of my desire.
Anything that glows with a burning redness is erubescent. Use your imagination, and maybe the word won't fall into obsolescence. I was delighted to see that the word erubescite was invented in 1850 to describe a copper sulphide or "purple copper." The Century, known for its elaborate description of technical subjects, has the following:
"Its surface is often iridescent with hues of blue, purple, and red: hence called variegated copper ore, and by miners peacock ore and horse-flesh ore, and by the French cuivre panache."
It is almost as if we are brought into the creative word-inventing process ourselves.
Thinking About Redness
So, why not invent a word? There is no English verb erubesce, meaning "to redden" or "to grow red," but there is no reason there shouldn't be such a word. Actually, the ending "esce" suggests that behind the word lies what is called the "inceptive" or "ingressive" in Latin--emphasizing the beginning of an action. Since words work best if they paint a picture, erubesce would emphasize the reddening process--of a coal, a face, a limb, a sunset. Its applications are numerous.
The word erubesce is actually a Latin word--an imperative of the verb erubesco, and it means "Be ashamed" (i.e., "redden). It appears once in the Vulgate (Latin) Bible, in Isaiah's long prophecy against Tire and Sidon:
"Erubesce Sidon ait enim mare fortitudo maris dicens: Non parturivi et non peperi et non enutrivi iuvenes nec ad incrementum perduxi virgines...(23:4),"
"Be ashamed, O Sidon; for the sea speaks, even the strength of the sea, saying, 'I have not been in labor, nor have I brought forth, nor have I nourished up young men, nor brought up virgins."
Finally (on this word), the OED points us to one other term that was too good to miss. It gives rubifacient as a synonymn for erubescent. A rubifacient is something producing redness or slight inflammation; a rubifacient rubifies something/someone. Thus, a rubefacient plaster is a plaster which "excites some counter irritation" (1804 quotation). An 1830 quotation has: "To protect the skin from the rubefaciant effect of the sun's rays, which is commonly called sun-burning." Then, introducing yet one more word, from 1896: "In whooping-cough the use of rubefacient embrocations is held in high esteem as a domestic remedy." Embrocation? Well, the first use of a word like that in English is from 1585: "Embrocha is when the membre is washed gentilly wyth a sponge dypt in the decoction of diverse herbes." Thus, an embrocation is a "liquid used for bathing or moistening any diseased part."
But why not invent a figurative use of rubefacient, since we are in the habit now of making up new words? The figurative use would be captured in such a sentence: "The teenager's father's words to her in the presence of her friends functioned as an automatic rubefacient."
Well, this was a helpful and entertaining diversion for me but, alas, there are still other words that beckon to me from the Century before returning to eructation. The belch will simply have to wait.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long