Bill Long 7/15/08
The following words either are left over from an earlier list or need to be added: liripipe, witzelsucht, wanweird, jentacular, jumentous, fritiniency, gowpen, dompt, dactylon, conciliabule, causeuse, bromidrosis and cataglottism. You might think that a stranger collection of words you have never seen, but let's go one at a time and coax some meaning and some fun out of these words.
1. cataglottism has something to do with the "tongue" (Greek is glottisma) and "down" (the preposition cata suggests something that runs downward--like the catarrh--or something "turning downward"--a catastrophe). So, something relating to tongues and down...hm. It is derived from the French cataglottisme, which means a "kissing with the tongue," or, in our current language, a "French kiss." So, a French kiss is when you try to ram your tongue down another person's throat. Visual enough for you? From Havelock Ellis' Studies in the Psychology of Sex (7 vols. (!!)), we have: "The kiss is not only an expression of feeling; it is a means of provoking it. Cataglottism is by no means confined to pigeons." Ah, maybe he has woodpeckers also in mind. I don't think the word "French kiss" is endangered by my "discovery" of cataglottism, do you?
2. The online dictionary for unusual words misspells the next one (as it does many of its words), but the correct spelling is liripipe. The OED and other dictionaries also have it as liripoop or liripipium. The word arose in the context of the academy and meant, at first, a hood of a particular form worn by graduates. Later on (when?), a liripipe/liripipium became a scarf or an appendage to the hood, consisting of long tails or tippets, which passed round the neck and hung down to the feet. Yet, this isn't completely helpful, since this online resource claims to shows you a hood with liripipe from the 14th century. Here the liripipe, a slender appendage to the hood, only reaches to the lower back. This quotation from 1860 is consistent: "It [the hood] is closed tightly about the head by the liripipe, or long pendent tail of the hood, that hung down the back when the hood was thrown off, and was wound like a bandage about it when placed over the head." Some dictionaries define the liripipe as synonymous with the tippet (the preaching stole, pictured here), and some even say it had something to do with shoes, though I can't understand that one. Thus it is something hanging from the hood in the back--a narrow piece of cloth reaching down the middle of the back. What is/was its function? Don't know.
If one wanted to pursue the history of medieval headdresses or hoods more extensively, one would soon come upon the chaperon, a headdress worn by women beginning in medieval Europe. Not only did the word chaperon bequeath to us our modern word chaperone (perhaps signifying the woman with hat who watched over younger women), but it also was used in the earlies published version of Little Red Riding Hood--Le Petit Chaperon rouge... Enough on this for now.
3. A conciliabule is a "little council," or a small private or secret assembly. Could one call the council attended by the demons at Pandemonium at the end of Book I of Paradise Lost a conciliabule? I can see using the word in a derogatory sense: "Oh, what did you two discuss in your conciliabule? Anything that anyone might be interested in?"
4. Wanweird means "hard lot, ill fate, misfortune." But the origin of the word is illuminating. Take it apart, and you have it. Though we usually think of wan as meaning "pallid, faded or sickly," as a prefix it expresses privation or negation, and has approximately the same meaning as "un" or "mis." The OED helpfully tells us that in Old English the number of words formed with this prefix is considerable, but few have survived into modern English. Wanweird is an invention of Middle English, and it remains attested today. Ah, what does the word "weird" mean? In the first instance weird means "fate" or "destiny;" the "principle, power, or agency by which events are predetermined." The "Weird Sisters," then were the "Fates" or "Parcae," the three goddesses which supposedly determined the course of human life. Shakespeare's Macbeth referred to the witches as the "Weird sisters." From there it is a short distance to weird being the thing that happens to a person (his/her fate), and the unusual nature of it, at times. "Weird" only began meaning "uncanny" or "uncomfortably strange," beginning with Shelley in the early 19th century.
Thus, we can now understand how wanweird refers to one's hard lot or ill fate. From Jamieson's in 1802: "Nor wit nor pow'r put aff the hour,/ For his wanweird decreed." Even if we don't recover wanweird in our common usage today, at least we can be enriched by knowing the origin of the word "weird."
5. witzelsucht is a term derived from psychology and means "a pattern of verbal punning and inappropriate jocularity." It is derived from the German witzel (joking) and sucht (sickness). The Wikipedia article charaterizes it as a "set of rare neurological symptoms" in which the patient not only has an uncontrollable desire to pun, but also to tell pointless or irrelevant stories at inconvenient moments. Isn't a synonym for that "adolescence"? But then, as if to give the "syndrome" some legitimacy, it says that witzelsucht is associated with small lesions of the orbitofrontal cortex. Huh? They go and check a jokester for orbitofrontal cortex lesions before they sternly point the finger at him and say, in a deep Germanic accent, witzelsucht? I don't know when the term originated, but I found a book review in a 1906 English-language journal that referred to the "witzelsucht of the German writers." The term probably originated in the 1890s, which was the great "discovery decade" or "invention decade" for psychological terms.
It would be a fascinating story to learn and tell the history and development of modern psychological terminology. It would probably tell you as much about the people who invented the terms as the people to whom the terms were meant to apply.
Ah, me, I only made it through four of these words, and there are so many more to go. Let's continue in the next essay...