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
From the Sublime... I
Bill Long 12/10/08
Starting In The Stars
Each "word" essay I write arises out of a life situation. Sometimes I am just "working through a list," so to speak, of words beginning with a certain letter, but today I began by reading a Latin passage, which suggested a few words, and then ended up by finding a passage in Rabelais that was so funny that I had to stop and examine it with you. So, let's get started.
1. It didn't dawn on me until today that the word exquisite, which we usually define (OED def. # 5) as "of such consummate excellence, beauty, or perfection, as to excite intense delight or admiration," is ultimately derived from the Latin "exquiro," which means "I seek out" or "I investigate diligently." The fourth principal part of exquirere is exquisitus, from which we derive exquisite. Thus, something exquisite, in the first OED definition (and in the Latin), is "sought out, 'recherche.'" Or, if it relates to an explanation or reason: "sought out, ingeniously devised" or even "far-fetched." Exquisite studies, however, are "abstruse" studies. We even have a verb (OED calls it obsolete) exquire, which means "to search out, seek for; to find out by searching." A 1615 translation of the Odyssey has: "Who can the deeps of all the seas exquire.." Thus, when a man points to his wife/girlfriend and calls her an "exquisite beauty," what he really means and which he probably doesn't know, is that she is the product of a long, diligent and arduous search. What things, indeed, just "fall into your lap" and what things are the result of exquirition (my own made-up word; maybe exquiration)? I think the verb exquire is of tremendous use for those of us who spend a good deal of time "searching out" the meaning of things. We need other words to supplement "research" and "investigation."
2. Another Latin term I ran into today was penitus, an adverb which means "deeply." It is a common term in Latin, and I wanted to see if it had been taken over in any way into English. Many Latin terms come into English, even if the English usage is rare (such as vafrous, serotine), and the appearance of a word derived from penitus is very rare. We have one attestation of penitissim, which means "innermost." from 1652: "Being convoyed into the penitissim corners of their souls."
3. I looked around the word penitissim in the OED and decided only to investigate two a little more closely. Something penible, derived from the French word meaning "hard-working, painstaking, painful, difficult," is also "painstaking, assiduous, careful." But even though the word is "rare," the second definition, meaning "causing or involving pain or trouble; arduous," has many attestations. From 1788: "Our Saint was favoured by an angelical vision,...by which he learned, that the pilgrimage of his penible life was to continue four years longer." From 1997: "Other categories of [French] workers may begin to claim that their work is also penible."
4. Then, there was penguinery, which can be disposed of much more quickly. It is a "colony or crowded mass of penguins; a penguin rookery." Wouldn't it be great to have a list of all the places where things are sold/groups of things live? We would have penguineries, termitaria, herbaria, stannaries and so many more.
To The Ridiculous
But then I made the "mistake" of doing a Google search on penitissim, and came across a delightful passage in Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel (Book II, ch. VI, cited here), some of which bears repeating. As with most of that book, the tone of the quotation is supposed to be quite funny. It is an attempt at Latinization and now, because we don't really have knowledge of Latin anymore, is pretty opaque to readers, even though some of the meaning may be guessed at. It describes the habits of college students:
"So you come from Paris,' said Pantagruel. 'And how do you spend your time, you gentlemen students at this same Paris?'
'We transfretate the Sequana at the dilucule and crepuscule; we deambulate through the compites and quadrives of the urb; we despumate the Latin verbocination and, as verisimile amorabunds, we captate the benevolence of the omnijugal, omniform, and omnigenous feminine sex. At certain intervals we invisitate the lupanars, and in venerean ecstasy we inculcate our veretres into the penitissim recesses of the pudenda of these amicabilissime meretricules. Then do we cauponizate, in the meritory taverns of the Pineapple, the Castle, the Magdalen, and the Slipper, goodly vervecine spatules, perforaminated with petrosil. And if by fortune there is rarity or penury of pecune in our marsupies, and they are exhausted of ferruginous metal, for the scot we dimit our codices and vestments oppignerated, prestolating the tabellaries to come from the penates and patriotic lares.'"
Actually, at first I thought of similarities to Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, where he "russifies" the language of the conspirators. I don't have time or interest in "translating" the whole passage; let's just look at a few lines.
"we deambulate through the compites and quadrives of the urb.."
This means, "we walk through the intersections and busy streets of the city." We actually have the word compital in English. A compitum was, in Roman antiquity, a "place where roads cross." Therefore, something compital is "of or pertaining to cross-ways." It was applied to the shrines of domestic gods placed at the corners of streets in ancient Rome." Compitalia is some kind of annual "street corner" festival in honor of the Lares (domestic gods). I wonder if we might well charaterize some of our "street festivals" these days as compitales?
Speaking of Rabelais, the immediately preceding word in the OED is also from the same work. The word is "compiss," which means to "wet with urine." As in, "These villainous dogs did compisse all her habiliaments." The OED helpfully tells us that a synonym of compiss is bepiss. Well, "bepiss" means "to piss on, wet with urine." It is quite different from someone saying, "I be pissed." Attestations are from many centuries, but here is an example: "Ready to bepiss themselves with laughing," or, from 1764: "Ye all bepiss'd yourselves for fear."
Well, the only thing more ridiculous than this is the Icelandic Phallological Museum, where you could probably find the organs of many creatures who had bepissed themselves as well as others over the years.
The next essay continues expositing this pasage, along with introducing a few other words....