More Free Rice Words (Essay XIV)
Bill Long 2/10/08
A Delightful Digression
Sometimes as a learner come across too many rich things entering your life too quickly. To do some kind of justice to these many things you are learning or that flood your senses, you need to try to freeze the action and patiently describe each beautiful thing you see. Most of us don't have the time or take the time to do that. But once you do, the experience becomes startlingly refreshing and meaningful. That is what happened to me today with words. I began with words that were somewhat suggestive, such as coquelicot or sasin, but I quickly made my way to words which held such munificent treasures that I had to stop, catch my breath, and slowly absorb the words. In this essay I will look at a few of those words: perfin, quebracho, anaphora, anadiplosis. I know I will need a second essay, but that is the cost of being in love with the way we choose to describe things....
If the only reason words interested me was so that I could spell them properly, I would quickly have whipped by this word. I wouldn't even have had to learn what it meant. But, when I did, I discovered this story. The OED defines it as "a postage stamp perforated with the initials or other insignia of an organization, esp. to prevent misuse," but this didn't help me too much. I needed some history.... So, I found it in this essay, and then the world opened up to me. The word stands for "PERForated INitials" and describes the custom of various businesses, beginning in Britain in the late 1860s, to punch their initials into the stamps through perforations before using them for postage. By so doing the company would identify the stamps as belonging to them and thus prevent against pilferage. I remember collecting postage stamps as a boy and running into these perfins all the time, but neither did I know what to call them nor did I understand why or who had perforated them.
Well, as luck would have it, many of these perfins are now quite valuable, and there is even a Perfin Society, formed in 1957, with the aim of recording all perfins found on Great Britain stamps. Currently there are about 300 members of this society in the UK plus about 50 in the rest of the world. I bet you could join....Indeed, the next meeting of the society isn't until May 31, 2008 in London. Buy your ticket now...
We go to a different corner of the world to understand this word. Because I took several years of Spanish in my youth, I knew the word meant "broken." So, I was expecting one of the Free Rice definitions to give me choice where something was broken, but it didn't. The right answer, as it turned out, had something to do with the fruit of a South American tree or the tree itself. But how was it so named? The word quebracho came into English in 1839; the designation was used because of the hardness of the wood--it tended to break things. One of the things it tended to break were axes. Thus, we have this quotation from 1868: "The Quebracho (or Quebrahacho, the axe-breaker),...whose...exceedingly hard gnarlings fit them for wheel-tires and boat-knees..." An axe in Spanish is a hacha. The two most popular forms of it are the "red quebracho," (genus Schinopsis; family Anacardiaceae) and the "white quebracho" (genus Aspidosperma; family Apocynaceae). This website presents the white quebracho as its "tree of the week" for a week in 2006. As the description says,
"the bark of Quebracho is comprised of a thick corky layer that has been used for many years in South America as a febrifuge (look it up!)...It is also used to relieve dyspnea (I'll be gracious--difficult or labored breathing)....Also the deep furrows of the thick, wrinkled bark may very well provide refuges for a variety of insect, invertebrate, and vertebrate wildlife species."
Most impressive to me are the seemingly "fluted" columns of the tree.
I was really searching for anaplasia, but I came across anaphora on my way there, and anaphora reminded me of anadiplosis, and so here we are. By the way, anaplasia was defined in Free Rice as "cell feature loss," a definition that isn't very helpful. It doesn't appear either in the OED or the Century, but anaplastic and anaplasty do. The latter is the "reparation of external lesions by the use of adjacent healthy tissue." Keep the Greek root in mind: anaplassein--"to form anew." A second definition for anaplastic, however, is "of, relating to, or characterized by cells that have become less differentiated." But, in cancer research, anaplastic is used to describe cancer cells that "divide rapidly and have little or no resemblance to normal cells." This would suggest to me that the cells are more differentiated--if that means a difference from other cells. So, I am confused, and probably not the only one. That is why I think we ought to go to anaphora and anadiplosis, the rhetorical devices.
I have spoken of both of them in other essays, but let's give some new examples here. Anaphora is the repetition of the same word or phrase, usually from the beginning of a clause, in several successive clauses. From Puttenham's Art of English Poesie (1589) we have: "To think on death it is a miserie, To think on life it is a vanitie; To think on the world verily it is; To think that hearer man hath no perfit blisse." Or, from the Scriptures, "Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world?" (I Cor. 1:20). Anaphora "brings back" or "carries back" (the literal meaning in Greek).
Anadiplosis is, literally, a "doubling back" of phrases. In anadiplosis, the last phrase or words in one clause are used at the beginning of the next. The dramatic effect thus created may be likened to a staircase--you gradually "climb" from one step to the next. In John Wesley's words, "In an anadiplosis the word repeated is pronounced the second time louder and stronger than the first." Let's give some examples from the Scriptures: "For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water," Deut. 8:7. Or, from Romans:
"The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ," 8:16-17.
The one I like the most, however, is from Romans 5, a Lectionary passage for February 24. As Paul makes his argument about justification by faith, he says:
"And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us..," Rom 5:3-5.
We move from suffering to hope through the help of anadiplosis. It really is a wonderful rhetorical device.
I really haven't made much progress, as you see, but each word can now enter into our minds in a much deeper way than if we just saw it on a list. Let's continue with another such essay.