Minding Some "P's"
Still More "P's"
Lord of the Flies I
Lord of the Flies II
Caponiere to Yapp
Some "F" Words I
Some "F" Words II
What the "H" I
H Words VII
H Words VIII
H Words IX
H Words X
Sublime To.. II
Saturday Words I
Saturday Words II
Saturday Words III
2009 Kids Bee I
2009 Kids Bee II
2009 Kids Bee III
2009 Kids Bee IV
Bill Long 12/12/08
If the previous two essays went into detail expositing my first "big principle" of learning, and then illustrating it through studying the word "hatchment," this essay will focus on the second principle, illustrating it through heloma. Let's begin with the principle and then move to the word.
Second Principle--Learn From the Neighbors
The word heloma illustrates my second "big principle" of learning, and that is that much of learning (possibly 50%) comes when you stop and pay attention to things you weren't originally planning to notice. Sometimes this stopping and listening can revolutionize your life, but I don't want to get too carried away... Usually it simply enriches you, and enables you to enter into people's lives at a different and deeper level than you could had you only been "focused" on the little piece of knowledge that was your goal. It also gives your other knowledge a flavor or tang that it didn't previously have. I'm not exactly sure where I picked up heloma, since it isn't in any dictionary I consulted, but it is the Greek word for "corn" (of the blister variety). Indeed, the Greek work helos is a "tooth" or "nail" or "spike" and the word oma suggests a tumor. Thus, a heloma is a nail-shaped growth.
This web site goes into all kinds of information about corns and calluses, for your reading edification. It differentiates as follows:
"A corn (clavus, heloma) is inflamed and painful. They are known as ‘soft corns’ (heloma molle) if the surface skin is damp and peeling, for example between toes that are squashed together. A callus (tyloma) is an area of painless hard skin."
Well, I was grateful for the distinction, but even more grateful for the words clavus, heloma, tyloma, which the paragraph provides. The remainder of this essay shows what happened when I decided only to pursue the clavus link.
The Latin word clavus means the same as the Greek word heloma. We have few words in English derived from helo (such as "helodont," which means "having teeth shaped like a nail or spike." Most of the rest relate to the ancient Greek practice of helotry or serfdom). The Century tells us that clavus might eventually have come from the same root as clavis, which is translated as "key." However, confusing things mightily (which means that I don't have time or want to take the time to disentangle the threads), there is also the Latin word clava, which means "club." Something claviform, however, is "club-shaped" rather than "key-shaped," though you wonder, indeed, if keys were once shaped like clubs which were shaped like corns, etc. Well, the word clavigerous means, either "bearing keys" or "club-bearing." I suppose one ought to be clear on that, especially if someone dangerous is approaching you. Your girlfriend cries out and says, "What's the matter?", you say, "A clavigerous person approaches," and she says, nonchalantly, "well, a key never hurt anyone..", just before the club crushes your skull. I think I see a video here...
But we are on clavus now--the nail, wart, tumor. Two further comments are interesting, drawn from 'wandering' to this neighbor. First, the term clavus was associated, in the 19th century, with a pain in the forehead, as if a nail were being driven into it, associated with hysteria. From 1807:
"Clavus... a fixed pain in the forehead, which may be covered by one's thumb, giving a sensation like as if a nail were driven into the part. When connected with hysteria, it is called clavus hystericus. The term is also applied to corns, from their resemblance to the head of a nail."
But we also have the word laticlave or "wide corn," which had a specialized meaning in Roman times. From Smith's famous mid-19th century dictionary:
"The clavus was..a band of purple colour..interwoven in the fabric [of the toga]. The clavus of the Romans was of two fashions, one broad and the other narrow, denominated respectively clavus latus and clavus angustus."
The laticlave, for example, consisted of two broad purple stripes on the edge of the tunic and was worn by senators and other classes of people of high rank.
From Clavus to Clawback
So, it would have been enough had I just tried to explain the word heloma by talking about warts and calluses. But then I decided to look at the Latin word clavus and see where it took me. I could have taken some time with tyloma, but I have to leave something for you to do... [the OED has a nice entry on the prefix tylo, meaning "knob, cushion, callus"]. But I will finish this essay by taking you on a slightly different trip. Not only can our eyes be taken from one term to another, such as from heloma to clavus, but we often let our eyes wander down the page in search of other interesting nourishment.
When I did that I came across clawback. Well, I don't recall ever running into that term, so I decided to let it speak for a moment. The Century has: "Literally, one who claws the back; hence, one who fawns on another; a syncophant; a wheedler." Ooh, this is getting rich, isn't it? We all need a vocabulary for those types of moochers. Then, this quotation from Cotgrave appeared:
"Parasite, a Parasite, a trencher-friend, ..a clawback, flatter, soother, smoother for good cheer sake."
Now I realize I not only have one more good term (clawback), but I also have "trencher-friend." Of course, its meaning is crystalline. A trencher is a rectangular eating plate from old England. Thus, a "trencher-friend" is one who sidles up to you to share your victuals. The Century even has a definition of "trencher-friend": "one who flatters another for the sake of a place at his table; a sponger." And, lo and behold, Shakespeare is then quoted, from the little-known work Timon of Athens:
"You fools of fortune, trencher-friends, time's flies!" III.vi.106.
But now, look at what we have. We are accumulating wondeful ways to deride another. Before we made this little side journey we had a few, I am sure, but look at what has been brought to us here, all in one or two places:
"fawner, sycophant, wheedler, clawback, flatterer, soother, fool of fortune, trencher friend, time's fly, smoother for good cheer."
There are others, of course, of which sequacious smoodge and sniveling snool are my favorites. And, indeed, the phrase "smoother for good cheer" also presents a pleasant picture for us--of a person who wants to make everything "smooth" so he can cash in on it. Oh life, we really don't evolve that much, do we?
That, friends, is what you can learn from words....