The Portland Spelling Bee II
Bill Long 3/20/08
Finishing the List--Words 7-15
One of the things that moves me as I write so many essays son words is the belief that you can eventually know all the words or, differently said, you can know enough words so that you are surprised very infrequently by new words. Full knowledge of words, and how they are used/derived, then opens new worlds to you. Words are doors to new worlds. Sometimes the doors themselves are beautiful, and you want to pause to notice every carving and knot in the wood; other times the door is not as interesting as the world it opens. In any case, you will be blessed by the words, if you let yourself listen to them.
7. Obvelation is easy to spell, once you see it in print. But when you hear it for the first time, unless you know its origin from medieval Latin as "veiling" or "shrouding," you might miss it. It means "the action or an act of concealing." Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century English preacher, had this to say in 1874: "Every revelation of God must also be an obvelation." Then, more to the "spelling bee" point, we have this quotation from the NY Times in 1997; "Rebecca [Sealfon]...won the 70th National Spelling Bee in Washington yesterday after 244 competitors stumbled over words like pachymeter, chautauqua, and obvelation." Be sure to differentiate obvelation from obvallation, which means surrounding with a wall or entrenchment (vallare is the Latin word for "entrench"). Oh, by the way, a pachymeter, accent on the antepenult, also known as the pachometer, is an instrument for measuring the thickness, originally of mirrors, but later also of paper and concrete. It also has a meaning in ophthalmology--as an instrument for measuring the thickiness of the cornea of the eye. The word pachy is derived from the Greek for "thick." Let's move quickly now.
8. I missed the word epyllion, which appears both in the OED and the Century. It was coined in 1876 in Ellis' Commentary on Catullus: "Unfortunately the contemporaneous epyllia, the Io of Calvus, the Smyrna of Cinna, the Glaucus of Cornificius, have perished." I can say that I am not sad that they all perished...An epyllion, according to the Oxford Classical Dictionary, is a "literary type popular from Theocritus to Ovid, a narrative poem of about 100 to 600 hexameters; the subject was usually taken from the life of a mythical hero or heroine, the love motif being prominent in later epyllia."
9. An emanometer is something that engineers are probably familiar with. It is "an instrument for the measurement of the radon content of the atmosphere." Here is a page describing the invention of the emanometer by a homeopath, Dr. William E. Boyd of Glasgow in 1922. Here is a description from another source:
"The inspiration for this research was the work of an American doctor (not a homeopath) called Abrams, who in turn had derived the idea from Dr Stern White of Los Angeles in 1914. Abrams invented a machine called a Reflexophone, which he claimed detected "energy fields" affecting patients. Purchasers of the Reflexophone were not supposed to open it; Boyd x-rayed it, however, and found that it could not possibly do what Abrams claimed. Although sceptical of Abram's methods, Boyd felt that there was something genuine at the bottom of it all and he therefore set to work to design his own machine, the Emanometer, which was quite different.
Boyd started this work in the early days of wireless, and probably for this reason the Emanometer has a distinct resemblance to a crystal set. It was more complicated, however, and Boyd was careful to insist that the "energy" it detected was not necessarily identical with radio waves."
10-12. Let's turn to heterodyned, noosphere and lavabo. The last has the longest history, and that history is in theological or ecclesiastical contexts. It was, in the Roman Catholic Church, and many Anglican churches, the ritual act of washing the celebrant's hands after the offertory and before entering upon the more solemn part of the eucharistic service. It is called this because the priest, while washing his hands, recites Ps. 26:6: "I will wash my hands in innocence." In the Vulgate this is, "Lavabo manus meas in innocentia." A second definition refers to a large stone basin in many medieval monasteries from which water issued by a number of small orifices around the edge, for the convenient performance of ablutions before religious exercises or meals.
The noosphere is "the part of the biosphere occupied by thinking humanity." The term originated in 1930 (in this quotation from the Journal of Philosophy: "This amounts to imagining, above the animal biosphere and continuing it, a human sphere, the sphere of reflection, of conscious and free invention, of thought strictly speaking, in short, the sphere of mind or noosphere), but the word was picked up by the French theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin as a stage in the evolutionary development characterized by the emergenvce of consciousness, the mind and interpersonal relationships. As you can tell, Teilhard had quite a following, but his thoughts were, at best, a bit obscure.
Heterodyne pertains to or designates the production of a beat frequency by the combination of two oscillations of slightly different frequency. I have no idea, really, what this means, but the word "hetero" means "different" and "dyne" is a suffix meaning "power."
Conclusion--The Last Three Words
13-15. We conclude with galenical, frumentaceous, and smaragdine. I had the first word, and when I heard that the definition was "a remedy" or a sort of "vegetable medicine," I knew that the word had to be derived from the name of the ancient physician Galen. Galen was born at Pergamum around 130 CE and was noted for his precise description of the bones, muscles, nerves and other organs, and for his use of the methods of experiment and vivisection. Galenic remedies consisted of preparations of herbs and roots by infusion or decoction.
My friend Gil got smaragdine but was not as fortunate as I, and he missed it. A smaragd is a precious or semi-precious green stone; an emerald. How do you go from the Old French smaragde to emerald? Well, the Old French was more commonly esmaragde or esmeraude, which isn't that far removed from emerald. Thus, something smaragdine is green like emerald. There was a medieval Latin work on alchemy Tabula Smaragdina (1541), the "smargdine table," attributed to the mythical Hermes Trismegistus. You don't have to go too far in many of these words to see that they would open huge new world to us, if we only had time and interest in pursuing them...
Let's conclude this essay with frumentaceous. Derived from the Latin word for grain or corn, frumenta, frumentaceous means "of the nature of or resembling wheat or other cereals." Well, this is enough for another day--in our desire to learn as many as we can. Thanks for joining me on this journey...
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long