Unusual Words VIII
Bill Long 7/28/08
Finishing the List--Right!
As I was working to a furious conclusion of some words on my "unusual words" list, I ran across another Biblical word or two with which I will begin (other ruminations on biblical words are here). Since Nimrod was the biblical hunter par excellence, the word nimrod originally meant a "great or skillful hunter." But even the original meaning has a frequent ironic reference. From 1649 (serious): "The Nimrod fierce is Death, His speedy Grayhounds are, Lust, Sickness, Envy, Car." Or, another serious reference from 1678: "These are the Nimrods, the private Hunters in this vast Forest of Chimneys, that draw the Poor into their Nets." But in American speech (of course), it has taken on the meaning of a "stupid or contemptible person; an idiot." The first attestation of this use is from 1933: "He's in love with her. That makes about the tenth. The same old Nimrod." Then, a 2002 quotation from Time Out NY, not a publication on my regular "to read" list, says, "Obviously, you don't want to waste your time with some patronizing nimrod who's only interested in how you can help him act out his porno fantasies."
Well, this is enough on Nimrod/nimrod. I will just love to use the word in the future. With the sound association with "dim" (a dimwit, for example), it has loads of possibilities...
The other biblical word I ran across recently was gallionic. It must be distinguished from galleon, the ship. Gallionic is derived from Gallio, the name of the Roman proconsul of Achaia, who refused to take action against the apostles (Acts 18:17) when the local Jews complained about them. But then, in an act of spite, "they all seized Sosthenes, the synagogue official, and beat him in full view of the tribunal. But none of this was of concern to Gallio." Thus, a "gallionic" person is indifferent. McCaulay first used the term, in his 1855 History of England (vol. 3): "Unhappily, Scotland was ruled, not by pious Josiahs, but by careless Gallios." The "indifferent" meaning comes out clearly in this 1926 quotation: "The Gallionic attitude of the soldiers along the various lines of the route..." I think in our day of indifferent officials or others the word gallionic needs to make a return.
Other Words--Quickly Now
Let's move to a few remaining words, such as causeuse, dompt, jentacular, gowpen, runcation, scacchic. Where to begin? Why not with scacchic (pron. 'skakkic')? This is such a non-English word in its sound. It is a rare word, invented in 1860 and means "of or pertaining to chess." D. Willard Fiske, in his Chess Tales, said: "Stern old fellows were these scacchic sages! They considered the laws of chess as inviolable as those of the Medes and Persians." The Italian word for chess is scacchi. Thus, you have it, even though you have never seen or used the word before...
A causeuse is a love seat, a small sofa on which two persons can sit. Here is a picture of it. The French word behind it is a feminine of causeur, fond of talking or conversation--which is one of the things you could do on such a couch. From a dictionary of interior decorating in 1967 we have the following: "The causeuse is similar to a marquise, love seat, or settee." So many names for things..
Gowpen is a Scottish word meaning either a handful or a hollow of the hand or of the two hands held together. Thus, it is a "clutch" or "grasp." "Hold me fast, let me not got,/ Or from your gowpen break." In Scottish law, a gowpen, the handful, was a perquisite demanded by the Miller:
"The multure was the regular exaction for grinding the meal. The lock (signifying a small quantity), and the gowpen, a handful, were additional perquisites demanded by the Miller."
The OED tells us that the word is synonymous with yepsen. Yippee.
I ran into the word dompteuse, rather than the verb dompt, but either word will do. Let's begin with the verb. It is derived from the French dompter and, beyond that, from the Latin domitare--to overcome, subdue, tame. In this regard it is a synonym for the original meaning of daunt, which means "to overcome, subdue, vanquish." The meaning of daunt as "overcome with fear," or "intimidate," is more recent. Galsworthy wrote in 1912: "What is grievous, dompting, grim, about our lives is that we are shut up within ourselves." A dompter is a subduer or tamer; thus a dompteuse is a female subduer. That should cause some thoughts to go rushing through our minds...In a 1673 quotation old age was called "that great dompter and mortifier of our passions."
Jentacular means "of or belonging to breakfast." The Latin jentare means to have breakfast, and jentaculum is breakfast. "Nothing more can be expected from those jentacular confabulations." The "step-up" or "sign-up" meeting was a jentacular affair. Jeremy Bentham tried to coin a word to describe a walk after lunch-- a "post-prandial vibration." Maybe he should have just been satisfied with a post-jentacular stroll; perhaps the phrase would have caught on...
Runcation is, in a word, the act of weeding. It derives from the Latin runcare, "to weed." There aren't any other words derived from this root in English that I know. From 1733: "After a few Days when it began to spring, they repeated their Runcation."
The Scriptures teach us that it is through many trials that we enter the kingdom of heaven. I would change the focus of that a bit to say that it is through many words, many, many of them, that we learn to think precisely, use the langauge well, see the world with more avidity and, eventually, appreciate life more. And, perhaps, we won't slip into Alzheimer's quite as quickly...