More Pure Fun
Bill Long 1/23/08
I am writing this essay from Wichita, KS, where I am staying at a modern-style suite-hotel on the East side of town. Bursting out of the near-frozen lake across the patio is a spraying fountain, the standard 2000's mechanism that tries to give the appearance of luxury. After gingerly tasting the hotel breakfast, listening to the drone of some TV person talking about faith, and staring at USA Today, which can usually be read in less time than it takes you to gulp down some juice, I retreated to my room and my words. These words take me to worlds much more interesting, pleasant and instructive than the morning "news."
Just as elephantry and camelry were new for me yesterday, supplementing my meager knowledge of military strategy, so I learned taikonaut today (a Chinese astronaut--term coined in 1998) to supplement astronaut and cosmonaut in describing space travelers. I also picked up another "form"-word, perciform, which means "perch-shaped." But what is perciform except a perch? Well, I don't quite know....
Some "E" Words
I already wrote on some "e" words earlier this year, but the six I study today are actually useful terms. Let's learn about ereption, erethism, electuary, exiguity, eximious and exinanite. An ereption differs from an eruption, or an erection for that matter, in more than an "e;" it signifies the snatching or taking away of something. A 17th century theologian could speak of the "suddaine and inexpected ereption of Isaac from that his imminent and intended death." Just think "ripped off," and you have almost all you need to get the hang of ereption. An electuary, possibly derived from the Greek verb for "to lick out," is a medicinal conserve or paste mixed with honey, preserve or syrup of some kind. From Boswell's Life of Johnson, "Make them an electuary with honey and treacle." It seems to me that an electuary is also a paregoric (a soothing medicinal preparation). From John Dos Passos, "Evenings he sat in his little log shack back of the hotel drinking paregoric and mumbling about God."
An exiguity of something is a lack or scantiness of that thing. Something exiguous is "small, slender, diminutive." I can't resist quoting James Russell Lowell's Fireside Travels (1864):
"Over the little brook which wimpled along below towered an arch, as a bit of Shakespeare bestrides the exiguous rill of a discourse which it was intended to ornament."
Whereas the verb "to wimple" originally meant to "cover" or "veil" or "envelop in a wimple" (i.e., veil), it later developed the meaning of meandering, twisting or rippling. I suppose a veil in the wind looks like it ripples. So does a stream...
Back to a few final "e's." Eximious comes form the Latin eximius, which means "excepted, select, choice," and means something "excellent" or "eminent." The OED points out, however, that its examples of its use, though common in 17th century literature, died out by the 19th or had become "humorously bombastic or pedantic." From the 17th century: "Our Savior Christ, was unquestionably, that One Eximious Prophet..." However, from the 19th (Carlyle), "Oh ye wigs, and eximious wig-blocks, called right-honorable."
Exinanite (ex IN a nite) derives ultimately from the Latin inanis, which means "empty." You may recall that I wrote on the word "inane" a while back; the earliest significance of that was a vast empty space. So, to exinanate means to deprive of force or virtue, to make void or empty. A pre-King James translation of the Bible, the Rheims Bible of 1582, uses the word when rendering Phil. 2:7. "He exinanited himself (from the Latin semet ipsum exinanivit) and took the form of a servant." The KJV of 1611, however, changed that to read, "He made himselfe of no reputation." I suppose exinanite had been emptied of its meaning by then.
Erethism derives from the Greek erethizein, which means "to irritate," and suggests either the excitement of an organ or tissue to an unusual degree or a "morbid over-activity of the mental powers or passions." The word has historically been linked to low level mercury poisoning, the so called erethism mercurialis, or more popularly known as "Mad Hatter's Disease." We will forever be indebted to Lewis Carrol for introducing us to the mad milliner who suffered from this.
But the term also was taken over by the psychologists in the late 19th century, connected with sexuality and came out as sexual erethism. I suppose this was nothing other than the "discovery" of the tendency of males, especially, to go rather sexually crazy at times. From a book by the homeopathic doctor James Tyler Kent: "In the male there is great sexual erethism driving to secret vice..." You wonder if it was only the requirements of Victorian sexuality that "discovered" things like male sexual erethism and female hysteria in the 19th century? Indeed, one of the first usages of the term erogenic/erogenous, which also happened in the late 19th century, talks about a female erogenic reaction (i.e., orgasm) as if it is a hysterical episode. Thus, we invent new terms of things one should avoid based on the regnant philosophy of the day, even though the thing, sexual pleasure, has existed from time immemorial and may not have even been a problem for most people in previous days.
Conclusion--Still With the "E's"
I tried to escape the "e's," but they were just too alluring. So, let's close with ergoism and ergotism. The former is derived from the Latin "ergo," meaning "therefore," and simply refers to those who are devoted to "pedantic adherence to logically constructed rules." Ah, I have known a lawyer or two to whom that applies...
But we shouldn't ignore ergotism (even though the OED gives two separate entries for it, I will only look at the first), which is a disease produced by eating bread made from flour affected with ergot. Ergot is a rye-fungus, and ergotism is a disease affecting the nervous system and leading to convulsions and death. This article tells why this disease is also called "St. Anthony's Fire." Indeed, the outbreak of the illness in the Middle Ages led Matthias Grunewald's to paint his 16th century Isenheim Alterpice, a polyptych celebrating the lives of those who suffered and offering comfort to those afflicted with this dread disease. It was executed for the hospital chapel of St. Anthony's Monastery in Isenheim (Alsace). It was at this hospital that the sufferers were treated...hence the name.
Many more words, but we stop here..
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long