New Free Rice Words III
Bill Long 8/15/08
And Others, Beginning with Infeft/Infeftment
Just when you think you have a good vocabulary, and you know the phenomena to which words point, you learn more words and are humbled. I don't know how I ran into infeft, but I want to pause on it for a second. The first time I saw infeft, I thought immediately of those 18th century documents where an "f" is really a double or single "s," and so I inadvertently read this word as "infest." Then, upon thinking more, I mistook it for "incest." But, upon further inspection, it just said infeft. We have no word sounding remotely similar in English; that is perhaps the reason for my fascination.
Actually, however, it is simply a term in old Scots law for enfeoff or to invest with fee title to land. There was even a word infeftment, which was the process (noun) of giving symbolic possession of heritable land. When you had this possession, you were said to be seised of the property, or to have seisin of the land. In old Scots law, this process was called sasine. I love it when old-time preachers use technical language of law to communicate theological truths. So, a Scots preacher, Rev. J. Willison, had this to say:
"The Sacrament [of the Lord's Supper] is one of the seals of the covenant of grace which God makes with believers in Christ; & by it He gives them seisine and infeftment of all the benefits of the covenant, and of the glorious inheritance purchased for them by Christ."
Next time I am walking around a Scottish Presbyterian Church, I think I might grab one of the elders and ask him how his spiritual seisin and infeftment is going... As for me, whenever I say the word investment, I will think of infeftment as the way it would sound if I pronounced it while holding my tongue.
This is a biblical word to describe household gods. Gen. 31:19 says, "And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images (i.e., the teraphim) that were her father's." So, these idols or images were a means of divination among Rachel's family. The problem with believing in an "Ur-monotheism" among the Hebrew people is that it runs smack into traditions, preserved in the Bible, that there might not have been what you could call "pure Yahwism" from the beginning. Well, the first appearance of the word was in Wyclif's 1382 translation of the Old Testament. One example is from Hos. 3:4: "The sons of Israel shuln sitte...with out teraphyn..." In a 1539 translation of the Bible we have the following. In Jud. 17:5 a priest named Micah "had a temple of goddes, and made an Ephod and Theraphin (that is to saye, a garment for the prest, and Idolles)." Picking up on this verse, John Milton, in a polemical context, says the following (1641):
"If any shall strive to set up his ephod and teraphim of antiquity against the brightness and perfection of the gospel.."
Milton's quotation is an indication of how deeply the very phrases of the Bible sunk into his mind. This doesn't generally happen anymore in our day, unless for some reason a person has been hyper-dedicated to ingesting the Scriptures.
Oops. Before returning to "normalcy," I made the mistake of letting my mind wander to the next word in the OED. It is terata, a word that I actually knew. Derived from the Greek word teras, meaning "marvel" or "prodigy" or "monster," terata are "monstrous formations or births." A teratology narrates what is marvelous or prodigious. But the sentence in the OED illustrating the use of terata stopped me. It says:
"The...type of double terata known as pygopagous twins."
I don't think I had run into pygopagous previously. The noun pygopagus means "a pair of conjoined twins united in the region of the buttocks--usually at the sacrum and coccyx." Therefore the adjective pygopagous means "designating conjoined twins of the pygopagus type." From 1979, "A set of female pygopagous twins was successfully separated." It comes from pyge, meaning "rump" and pagos, 'that which is fixed." Thus, we have the following words, describing the various ways twins are "fixed" to one another: pygopagus, thoracopagus, xiphopagus. The latter refers to joinder at the xiphoid cartilage. Here is a picture of babies so joined. That picture also gives several other ways, in addition to those listed in the OED, by which babies can be joined (such as heteropagus, omphalopagus, cephalopagus, craniopagus, etc). These would certainly have been the terata of ancient and early modern times. Today, they are a challenge for medical science.
Plunking down on Plonk
We are getting a bit too sublime, so let's descend to the more mundane, by examinig the word plonk. At first you think of "plunk," and that really is the first meaning of the word ("a dull thudding sound, as of one solid object hitting another"), but the "Freerice.com" definition was the second meaning in the OED. It means "a cheap wine of inferior quality," or, more generally, "wine or alcohol of any kind." The word originated in Australia, and I don't think it has yet made it to the States.... But the word pronk has. A pronk is, alternatively, a "leap performed by a springbok or other antelope," or "a fool, an idiot." From 1959: "No one is going to..try to blackmail me with that crazy old mixture of threats and congratulations that a pronk like you falls for."
Again, not too much progress in this essay, but any real progress in life is real slow. So, join me again later for another essay on words.