Moving Toward the Promised Land
Bill Long 8/3/08
But Several Words Before Sephiroth
Beginning with Words for Burial
I promised at the end of last essay to bring us back from our digression into the world of lecanomancy to the world leading to sephiroth. Thus, we begin with an "s-word" or two, though I have discovered, en route, lots of other interesting paths. Sepelition is a big word for "burial; interment." The Latin behind the word is sepelire, to bury. A sepulcrum is a tomb or burial place, from which we get the word sepulchre. In fact, we have more sepulch- words than sepel- words in English. To sepulchrize means "to bury;" sepulture is "interment, burial," and sepulchrous is "of the nature of a sepulchre." In keeping with my long-standing interest in various forms of divination or mania, we even have sepulchromany, which is a "mania" relating to burial, though I don't know if this mean to be afraid to be buried or not (see taphophobia below). Sepelible means "that may be buried," but I don't believe I have ever seen the word in print.
Just as the Latin sepelire stands behind these words, the Greek has also bequeathed a "burial-type" word to us: taphos, or "grave." A cenotaph is an empty tomb (from the Greek kenos, which means "empty." Recall that the theological doctrine of Christ "emptying himself" to take on human form is called "kenosis"). More interesting to me is a bibliotaph, defined as someone who "buries" books by keeping them under lock and key. "The old-time librarian was in fact a bibliotaph: she believed that books were sacred things that should preferably be admired from a distance" (by the way, a bibliophagist is one who "devours" books). One of the recognized "fears" in our modern world is taphephobia (also spelled taphophobia): the fear of being buried alive. This article gives a historical sketch of the phenomenon: it lists a variety of precautions that some were said to have taken to prevent this reality, such as glass lids for observation or ropes to bells for signaling, just in case the person was buried before being dead.
The word taphonomy has a specialized meaning in paleontology--the study of the process by which animal and plant remains become preserved as fossils. The word was used for the first time only in 1940, when Ivan A. Efremov described it as "the science of the laws of embedding" or the study of organic transition from biosphere to lithosphere. You know that a word has finally "made it" in our society if there is a journal named after it. So, here you have the web page of the Journal of Taphonomy, which is now in its sixth year of publication. I would be surprised if any of my words ever appear within its pages.
When we turn to sepia, and many words derived from it, we enter into the complex world of colors. The Wikipedia, for example, tells us that there are 32 shades of brown and 40 of red, but the color "titian," for example, is not in either list. So, I am not sure if the list of colors is something, like the list of minerals, for which there is some kind of international body that approves them, or whether we are captive to the imaginative ruminations of fifth graders as they enter contests for naming new crayola crayons. In any case, I didn't know that there was a brownish color named zinnwaldite, and that in the 1960s AT & T marketed zinnwaldite-colored telephones for offices and homes. Picture is here. In fact, the color is very familiar to us, but we knew it as "beige." I suppose we wouldn't have known what to do if people ran around offering to sell us "zinnwaldite" phones. Come to think of it, I had one of them, with a dial, until just a few years ago.
In any case, sepia is both a "pigment of rich brown color" and the cuttle-fish, from whose inky excretion this rich color is derived. Here is a brief article, with color, of sepia. We know it mostly as the tone used in old photographs, even though that sepia seems a bit more auburn than "official" sepia. Pictures of these cuttlefish abound on the Net. Here is one, looking right at you....
Finishing with A Few Miscellanies
When I was in 7th grade, I remember reading the short story "The Most Dangerous Game." When a person approached a house/castle, he came across a "leering gargoyle knocker." I have never forgotten that phrase. But had I known what I know now, I would have realized that the word mascaron describes such a knocker. Here is a picture of one; there are tons more. Next time you go into a cathedral, then, don't just notice the flying buttresses or the apses and vaulted ceilings. Ask the guide for a brief history of the mascarons.
Then, I ran across tregetour, and had to stop for a second. This French-derived word, ultimately derived from the Latin for "throw across," is "one who works magic or plays tricks by sleight of hand; a conjurer; juggler." Hence, "a deceiver, trickster." The word is quite old in English and even appeared in a 1533 English translation of one of Erasmus' works: "These persons do make Christe a iuglere or a trogeter and a wonderfull deceiver." A tregetour appears in the Franklin's Tale in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. A few lines are these:
"For ofte at feestes have I wel herd seye
That tregetours withinne an halle large
Have maad come in a water and a barge,
And in the halle rowen up and down...."
We are gradually filling out a rather complete knowledge of words in the English language-that will get you almost anywhere you want to go.
Let's now turn back to the essay that launched this whole page--that on sephiroth--before returning to more fascinating words in our language.