Tough Words Beginning with "H"
Bill Long 1/8/08
Pawing through the Unabridged (Webster's 3rd International) and stopping on words that you don't know or are not fully clear on is a rewarding pastime. If you are satisfied with only learning enough words to provide a pleasant repast rather than a gorging feast, you will have many words for a good long time. Each venture into the dictionary will yield a rich harvest of understanding. Let's begin with the "he's" in this and the next essay.
1. I didn't know before a few days ago that there was a "He/She Bible" printed about the same time as the KJV (1611). Indeed, because the concept of "KJV" is not fully clear to me (because the original print run is unknown) the He/She Bible(s) is/are probably two versions of the KJV. The "he" edition had "he" in Ruth 3:15, "then he went into the city." Yet, around the same time (probably slightly later), another edition of the Bible was printed with "then she went into the city" as the English translation of a portion of Ruth 3:15. It is reminiscent of the story of the "Printer's Bible," where Ps. 119:61 is "mistranslated," as "Printers (rather than Princes) have persecuted me without cause."
2. I really do know how to spell "he," but I couldn't resist telling that story. But I hadn't run across heautarit, a word so rare that it only has few appearances in a Google search and doesn't appear in the OED. Yet, the word comes from a Ben Jonson's 1610 play The Alchemist. In listing a long series of alchemical words, he uses the following sequence: "lato, azoch (azoth in the OED), zernic, chibrit, heautarit." Only azoth of these five appears in the OED, while the Unabridged has azoth and heautarit. But why? I have no idea why the other three don't appear either place. They are all words for mercury, apparently, an important element in the alchemical suitcase. So, the word can be used in a spelling bee, but like baralipton and about 15 other mnemonic terms from logic, it makes no sense at all.
3. Making only slightly more sense is heautophany. My guess is that the accent is on the middle syllable. The Greek prefix heautos is useful to know--it is a the reflexive pronoun meaning "self." So, a heautophany is, in some sense, a manifestation of oneself. The only attestation that I know is from Coleridge, though the OED citation is anything but lucid. It appears in the 4th volume of his Literary Remains (1853), where he has a series of essays or "Notes" on various English divines, such as Hooker, Donne, Henry More and his favorite divine, Jeremy Taylor. He speaks of Taylor's having escaped from the "Mononomian Romaism" which had "netted him in his too eager recoil from the Antinomian boar" and his ultimately having landed in "Calvin's stye." Yet, he too escaped from this "wiry net":
"into the devotional and dietetic, as into a green meadow-land, with springs and rivulets, and sheltering groves, where he leads his flock like a shepherd; --then it is that he is most himself,--then only he is all himself, the whole Jeremy Taylor; or if there be one other subject graced by the same total heautophany, it is the pouring forth of his profound common sense on the ways and weaknesses of men and conflicting sects....," pp. 256-257.
For Coleridge, then, a heautophany is a "manifestation of the self." It is the place where a person/author completely demonstrates the self, is completely comfortable in writing. It takes a clever reader to discern the heautophanic manifestations of a writer. We need to be able to tell both when s/he enters into one's comfortable "groove" or "flow" and as well as when the author is climbing difficult mountains or riding over roughly cobbled streets. Some authors have the patience and grace to wait to write until it has all come together flawlessly; such a a writing is probably a continuous heautophany. Most of the rest of us, however, put out our frequently crabbed or inelegant prose in an attempt to capture the images which keep shooting through our minds. Yet even when I write so much, I frequently can recognize my heautophanic writings or my heautophanic style. But, maybe one reason why no one seemed to "pick up on" Coleridge's word is that it is a bit too difficult to conceptualize and identify in authors.
One last brief point. A heautophany seems to be different from an autobiography. The latter tells a personal story; the former captures the essence or manifestation of the self in writing.
Ah, I guess I have one little remaining point. The OED lists a few other words built off "heauto," such as heautandrous and heautomorphism. Heautandrous is an adjective used to describe a certain type of hermaphroditism. From 1837: "Three kinds of hermaphroditism. First, the cryptandrous... Second, the heautandros, in which the male organs are developed, but so disposed as to fecundate the ova of the same individual." So, a heautandrous hermaphrodite (say that quickly five times!) is capable of self-impregnation. The mind wanders...
4. Let's end with a word that has had a more colorful and useful history: hebephrenia. Derived from Greek terms meaning "youth" and "mind," hebephrenia is defined as a "form of insanity incident to the age of puberty." The term originated in 1883 and was meant to describe a sort of infantilism that often afflicts those going through puberty (why stop at puberty??). The 1880s and 1890s were a great time for inventing psychological terminology. Psychology was a new discipline, and one of the ways to establish your "scientific" legitimacy as a discipline was to make up new terms--preferably derived from Latin and Greek. The theory was that if you clothed it in these garments, it might be more acceptable in the haunts of the learned. Even though scholars tried to develop a system of language in which hebephrenia found a place (a 1915 English translation of O. Pfister's 1913 Psychoanalytische methode has the following: "Dementia precox (in catatonic, hebephrenic and paranoid forms...))." My goodness. The word dementia precox was only invented in the early 1890s, and already, by 1913 we have the attempt at systematization before we really know what we are talking about. But that is the Germanic mind at the beginning of the 20th century. Construct a system, even if you don't really know how solid the individual parts are.
"Modern" psychology has abandoned the term hebephrenia for the much more precise (right) "disorganized schizophrenia." The DSM IV lists it, but I don't want to take the time to work through the DSM now. Suffice it to say that it seems not to have gotten much more precise in the last 120 years. But that may be just a function of the complexity of human nature and not the weakness of the psychological profession.
Well, we haven't gotten very far, have we? Let's continue with some more obscure or difficult "h's."
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long