More Classical Words
Bill Long 1/18/08
Along with Cleaning Up Some "Form"-Words
I devoted a good portion of a previous essay to words built off classical names that still have resonance today. Some of the words I examined in that essay, or other essays on this site (just do a word search in the upper right-hand box) are: (1) stoic; (2) epicurean; (3) lucullan; (4) cynic; (5) academic; (6) pyrrhic; (7) fabian; (8) cunctation/cunctator; (9) terpsichorean; (10) melpomenish; (11) thrasonical; (12) stentorian; (13) odyssey; (14) euterpean; (15) cliometrics; (16) anacreontic; (17) caesarean; (18) aristarch; (19) sphingine; (20) skeptic; (21) stentorian; (22) boeotian; (23) thalian; and (24) sapphic. Learn all these words and you will be on the way to developing a fabulous vocabulary. Here I add a few more words and try to make up a word. Let's begin with the made-up word.
It relates to "Clio," the muse of history. The invention of cliometrics in 1960, to denote the technique of statistical analysis for understanding data of economic history, emboldens me here. If you have a "historical sense" or tend look at things historically in general, why not call this inclination clionine or clionic? "My clionic (25) inclination forbids me from looking at the data as if they were an inconsistent heap of undifferentiated facts. I sort them out in chronological order."
Ah, that word "data" in the previous paragraph suggests to me another classical word still useful in our speech: (26) solecism or solecistic. Solecism was a so-called "vice of speech," an incorrect use of the Greek language. Derived from the town Soli in Cilicia (some dictionaries call the town Soloi, but that is what the inhabitants would have been called), where people were supposed to have spoken the Greek language improperly, the word has two significations: in general it refers to any impropriety or irregularity of speech or diction; more narrowly it refers to a "faulty concord," i.e., an improper use of a singular when plural is required or vice-versa. Thus, the focus is on incongruity rather than on bombast or faux eloquence. But we should pause before trying to accuse the world of solecism and wrapping ourselves smugly in the blanket of proper speech. I think everyone not only uses solecism in speech but also in writing. I like Dryden's quotation of 1672: "Let any man...read diligently the works of Shakespeare and Fletcher, and I dare undertaken, that he will find in every page either some solecism of speech, or some notorious flaw in sense." I recall that one of the things that made me unable to abide working in "BFL" (big firm law) was the need of many partners to try to "correct" my language simply because I was an associate (even though I was in my late 40s). When I pointed out their infelicities of language, however, they were not very charitable. I suppose a synonym of the general sense of solecism is barbarism (27) though barbarism can also refer to the mixing of Greek and Latin phrases in one's writing or speech.
A Few More
(28) Anabasis. Of course this is the name of Xenophon's classic work, narrating the advance of Cyrus into Asia in the 6th century BCE, which was used as the basis for second semester, first year, classical Greek instruction for many years. But if you spell it with a lower case first letter, you have anabasis--a "going up" or a "military advance."
(29) Well, if you advance in a military endeavor, you need poets to sing the virtue of martial valor. You need a Tyrtaeus, a poet of the 7th century BCE who wrote marching songs and elegiac exhortations for the Spartans as they headed into battle. Thus a tyrtaean poem or tune encourages to battle.
(30) Something delphic would relate to the oracle at Delphi, which was famous for delivering obscure and ambiguous responses to questioners. I suppose such an oracle would have the politican as its modern equivalent. Whereas sphingine emphasizes the inscrutability or mystery of a person's reaction, delphic stresses the ambiguity of the response. But delphic has another meaning--something that is furious or raving. Well, the Oracle at Delphi entered into her frothy or paroxysmal state before delivering the goods; thus a delphic answer could also relate to this fury.
Ending with Some "Form"-Words
A few essays ago I discussed the meaning of the following "form" words: (1) cruciform; (2) colliform; (3) filiform; (4) filiciform; (5) lentiform; (6) heliciform; and (7) falciform. But then I ran into a bunch of others. Here they are: (8) eruciform--caterpillar-shaped or "resembling a caterpillar"; (9) pisiform--pea-shaped; (10) cuculiform--cuckoo-shaped. The Century, which is always good for some obscure words, defines cuculiform as "cuculine" or "cuckoo-like in form or structure." But I love its last word: "coccygomorphic." What is it? Well, a family of "desmognathus picarian birds." Don't you wish you really had time to look at all these things? Well, hastening on to the rest: (11) cuculliform-- "cowl-shaped." Of course, everything in life is cowl-shaped. Or, better yet, is anything in life cowl-shaped?; (12) cucumiform--like a cucumber; (13) piciform--like a woodpecker; (14) suiform-like a pig or swine and (15) cauliform-- having the form of a stem.
There are more, to be sure, but these ought to keep you humming for a long time to come.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long