Portland Spelling Bee II
Bill Long 2/19/08
Wandering Further From the Pack
The 2/18/08 Portland Spelling Bee at the Mississippi Pizza Pub got me started on this odyssey. I hope I can get myself back on the right road before the end of this essay. Sometimes I get so distracted by all the beautiful things of life in words (and what the words point to), that I believe I can never again be a "productive" citizen. I just have to follow my inclinations. So, for example, after studying kanji, kathakali, kat'exochen, Kate Greenaway and kathenotheism in the previous essay, I found myself still mired in the "kat's" of the OED. Let's see how far we can go in this essay.
Derived from the Sanskrit word for a professional story teller, a kathak is a "North Indian caste of story-tellers and musicians or a member of this caste." It can also be a classical dance composed of passages of mime alternating with passages of dance. Thus, it derives from the world of the kathakali. Its first use in English was in 1931: "Kathak...These religious troubadours carefully preserve their ancient ballads, and allow nobody to tamper with them." Then, in a 1957 dictionary of ballet we have, "Kathak, one of the four main forms of Indian dancing." Just for one evening I would love to be present in a place where a kathak recited his stories for me. The imagination needs this kind of fuel.
A Kathi is a "judge in Islamic law, who also functions as a registrar of Muslim marriages, divorces, etc." The term is Malay, and there is only one person I know who spoke Malay. I wonder if Maude--an acquaintance from my days as an undergraduate at Brown, would have known the term... I hastened on to "Kat stich," which I hadn't heard previously. It is a term from lace-making, and is a stitch "which forms a star-shaped ground net." It is so called because it was thought to be invented by Katharine (Catharine) of Aragon.
But there are a few other "kat's" I can't ignore. Katharevousa comes really from one Greek word--kathareousa. I suppose you add the "v" to make the word more pronounceable. It is defined as "the purist form of Modern Greek; the 'official language' as opposed to the spoken and literary demotic." Other quotations call it the "literary, learned or archaising form of Modern Greek." While we are on the route to katharos, which means "pure" or "clean," I might as well introduce a word that will never be used in a spelling bee--katharophore. Derived from the two words meaning "bearing" and "pure," it appeared in a medical dictionary in 1890 to mean "An instrument for cleaning the urethra." Sorry, no pictures of it online..
We could go on and on, but let's end with kathete. Actually, the word is defined under cathetus, which is derived from the Greek kathetos and means "perpendicular." The Greek verb kathienai means to "let down." Thus a cathetus (kathete) is a straight line falling perpendicularly on another straight line or surface. The word is used in discussion of the Pythagorean theorem. "The well-know Pythagorean axiom that the sum of the squares of the kathetes in a rectangular triangle is equal to the square of the hypotenuse." We get our word catheter from cathetus. Glad you know, I am sure. Did that mean that originally a catheter had a "perpendicular" aspect to it? Maybe it just means that it was "let down" through the urethra into the bladder to draw off the urine.
Another Search--this Time Through the "O's"
How is it that I end up doing word searches? Often a person just mentions a word to me and then I am off to the races. For example, I was talking about arrogant people to a friend yesterday, and she wanted to know some "big words" for arrogance, so that she might be able to put down such a person without his knowing it. I suggested orgulous. It first appeared in English in the 13th century, was only once used by Shakespeare and then seemed to disappear from the mid-17th century until the early 19th century. It means "proud" or "haughty." James Joyce used the word in Ulysses: "Then spoke young Stephen orgulous of mother Church that would cast him out of her bosom." From the early 19th century (Sir Walter Scott), we have: "Punished for your outre-cuidance and orgulous presumption." All of a sudden, I had another idea. Rather than referring to the person as "orgulous," even though he probably would have no clue as to what was meant, I would study outre-cuidance.
I hadn't heard the word outrecuidance previously, but I knew from the moment my eye fell on it that it would be a favorite of mine. Derived from two French words meaning "beyond" or "excessively" and "think, plume oneself," it means "excessive self-esteem; overweening self-confidence; arrogance, presumption; conceit." Perfect. From 1819 (Scott seemed to like the term): "It is full time...that the outrecuidance of these peasants should be restrained." From the London Times of 1919: "At first he thought that the original clause was inserted by the majority of the House of Commons out of pure arrogance and outrecuidance and a determination to stamp upon Church feeling."
Now my friend wants to get a t-shirt with outrecuidance stenciled prominently on it. But before I let her get too confident, I told her about another word--a near-neighbor of orgulous but having nothing to do with arrogance or conceit--and that word is orguinette. It is, or was, a mechanical musical instrument played with a crank, where you would "grind out" the tunes. Here is a wonderful web page with pictures of "organettes" or "orguinettes," which are described as "mechanical organs" that were the "first affordable instruments for the mass distribution of recorded music." When I told my friend about the orguinette, she mentioned that her great-grandfather owned a piano company in NYC in the late 19th century, and she wondered about what happened to the company. A quick search through a NY Times data base led to the fact that her great-grandfather's piano shop burned down twice, once in 1885 and once in the early 1890s, the latter time only one day after he had purchased a lot more insurance on the property. He was arrested and tried for arson, though I think a jury acquitted him. Thus, we find interesting things about our relatives--the skeletons in the closet, when we started innocently enough on a little trip down the word road.
Try it some time, and your work will likewise be enriched.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long