Words Beginning with "R", 4th Essay
Bill Long 10/19/08
Today I will return to my more rapid method of word play, beginning with rachis.
1. Rachis (RAY kiss) is a hugely important word not simply because of what it means but because of the dozens of other words built on it. The Greek word rhachis means "spine, ridge" or "rib" of a leaf. Thus, in anatomy and zoology, a rachis is the vertebral column or spinal cord. It has other more technical meanings for nematodes or bird's feathers, but it always comes down to some kind of axis, stem or shaft of the living creature being studied. In botany it is the main axis of an inflorescence or leaf. We might also speak of a rachis of peaks or summits along a mountain range. Here (under the word) is a picture of a leaf, with stem, petiole (beginning of leaf branch), leaflet and rachis indicated.
As mentioned above, rachis is also the "fruitful mother of children," to use Augustine's felicific image. Rachialgia is pain in the back or spin, rachial or rachidial means "relating to a rachis," rachiform means shaped like a spine, and rachisagra is a rare term relating to "gout affecting the vertebral column." The last one is built the same way that podagra (foot pain) and chiragrical (hand gout) are. The word rachio can be combined with many other words to form a cornucopia of medical terms, such as rachioparalysis or rachiotome (a 19th century instrument for cutting into the spine or vertebral canal). However, rachitic is derived from the Latin rachiticus, and realtes to the disease "rickets." The extra "t" makes all the difference.
2. Rataplan is an echoic word (what is the difference between an onomatopoetic and an echoic word?) that captures the sound of a drum beat. From 1865: "An absurd drummer-boy rataplanning..some march adapted from the Rogue's own." If you hear a rataplan in your mind, you might have a tendency to walk to the beat of your own drum.
3. Something that is a raptor seizes, grasps, robs or rapes. But raptus, derived from the same word (rapere means "to seize") is "a state of rapture or excitement." That is, it is the state of being rapt or seized. All the "rapt"-words have interesting histories and meanings, but the word rapt literally means to be "taken and carried up to or into heaven." Of course it has a figurative meaning where one is carried away in spirit, without bodily removal. But, back to raptus. Listen to this 1964 quotation: "Beethoven, every now and again, used to have what his faithful disciple called 'a raptus', a kind of volcanic creative outburst..The raptus or inspiration is clearly only a rare and wonderful form of a well-known everyday mental process." William James used the word in his Varieties of Religious Experience (1902): "In the condition called raptus or ravishment by theologians, breathing and circulation are so depressed that it is a question among the doctors whether the soul be or be not temporarily dis-severed from the body." With everyone worrying about "making it" economically in our day, there is very little room for raptus, I suppose. Or, alternatively, if you went around claiming such a state, people would think that you just are trying to escape your troubles. I find it further fascinating that the terms rape and rapture, emphasizing two life-changing experiences, bad and good, are derived from the same root.
4. A racloir is a stone tool used for scraping (racloir is French for "scraper") and, in archaelogy, is a scraper discovered among Mousterian remains of the Middle Paleolithic period in France. Named after the type-site of Le Moustier in the Dordogne Valley, France, Mousterian industries were found dating back to the Neanderthal communities around 200,000-30,000 years ago. A picture of this racloir is here. I bet the classical athlete would have much preferred the strigil.
5. A ragabash is an idle, worthless person, scoundrel. It is a "ragged" person a "ragamuffin." Like so many good words, no one seems to be sure how this word emerged, even if there are some folksy etymologies related to leaving rag offerings at religious sites. Also, as with so many seemingly outdated English words, this is of Scottish and Irish origin.
6. The word rantipole is either a noun or an adjective (it can also be a verb, derived from tthe noun). As a noun it is a romp (a person); a wild, ill-bred or reckless person. More popularly, as an adjective, it means "wild, disorderly, rakish." "I will come no longer to this rantipole place." Or, alternatively, "Please make sure you invite me again to this rantipole place."
7. and 8. Finally, let's lay out the difference between randem and randan. Randan really has more to do with rantipole than randem. Randan means "riotous or disorderly behavior; a spree." It also is applied to a boat rowed by three persons where the middle one of three rowers uses a pair of sculls, while the stern and bow rower each use a single oar. A scull is a short-handled oar. Randem also refers to something triple, but this time it is horses. It is applied to a style of driving in which three horses are harnessed tandem. It also realtes to a carriage driven in this fashion. A picture on this page emphasizes the "cart" definition of randem, even though three horses don't pull this cart.
How many words does it take till you know enough? I don't know, but there are still more to go...