EVEN MORE WORDS
Anadiplosis (Devices V)
Paronomasia et al
Symploce et al.
Legal Words I
Legal Words II
Legal Words III
Bill Long 5/31/05
Picking Up Gossip Where We Left Off
So, gossip goes back very early, to the 14th century, to mean "godparent" or "friend." By the 16th or 17th centuries it was associated with women who were not midwives but who attended another woman at childbirth. Shakespeare attests this meaning. "Sometimes lurke I in a Gossips bole, In very likenesse of a roasted crab." Oops, got to look up "bole." The Collegiate only has the meaning "trunk" for it, so I had to go further. The OED has four definitions of bole: (1) the stem or trunk of a tree, going back to the 14th century; (2) the name of several kinds of fine, compact, earthy, or unctuous clay;*
[*Oops. What is "unctuous" clay? I usually think of unctuous as being associated with a person. An unctuous person is smug or ingratiating. But then, yes, I recall that the word is derived from "oily." The person who used to receive "Extreme Unction," which the Catholics have now changed to be called "The Sacrament of the Dying," was anointed with oil. Ok. Clear as oil. But this brings up another point, highly irrelevant, but which I want to mention. It now dawns on me, as I "wander" from word to word, why I have never been able to make anything of my life. The reason is that I always am seeking understanding, and I feel that unless I understand what is going on I can't really contribute. But it takes me so long even to establish a rudimentary understanding. Witness the problems I am having in these essays just trying to work through some basic words. It takes me so long to establish meaning that by the time I think I understand what is happening, the scene changes, either because the terms are redefined, the characters have changed or the issue which motivated my first quest for meaning really are not burning issues any more. So, I dutifully try to understand the new "lay of the land," with the same results. Thus, this page can be seen, really, as my attempt to "freeze" the world, to try to establish some "firm meaning," from which I can then venture forth boldly in confronting that same world. However, meaning seems to be as evanscent as a wisp of prairie wind. And all you are left with, then, is the history of evanescence.]
(3) a small square recess in the wall of a room for holding articles or an unglazed aperture in the wall of a cottage for admitting air or light; (4) place in ancient times where miners used to smelt their lead ores. I suppose Shakespeare's meaning is # 3 above, though the meaning still is a bit opaque. Well, when I study Midsummer Night's Dream closely I will come to some closure on it.
Still on Gossip
But we are still on the development of the term gossip from being a "bisexual" word to a single sex word. But before it left its bisexualty behind gossip picked up the connotation of "idle talk; trifling or groundless rumor." From 1709: "John Stevens..a negligent, busy, prating Gossip." Then, from Addison is a riveting quotation: "A Gossip in Politics is a Slattern in her Family." I suppose that means he is speaking against having women in politics. But the word gossip could still have a positive connotation into the 1850s, as witnessed by Charlotte Bronte's words: "The old duenna--my mother's gossip." It would be an interesting study, which I certainly don't have the time or interest to pursue, of how the word gossip lost its bisexual connotation and then became associated with trivial talk of women. Though we might try to argue that both men and women can be gossips today, even the most dyed-in-the-wool feminist would have the uncontrollable image flit through his/her mind, when the word "gossip" is mentioned, of a woman. When, however, did that happen and how?
A Few More Dys's
I continued my wandering, and found myself returning to the safe confines of the dys's. Let's finish this essay with two more: dyspeptic/dyspepsia and dysphemia. As you could probably imagine, time would fail me if I wanted to go through the entire list. The Collegiate has this for dyspepsia, which it says goes back to 1706: "1 INDIGESTION 2: ill humor: DISGRUNTLEMENT." Let's look at it more closely. The word is derived from the Greek word for indigestion, and is defined in Phillips' 1706 dictionary as "Difficulty of Digestion..or Fermentation in the Stomach and Guts." Then, the helpful medical advice from 1842: "Rapid eating almost invariably leads to overloading the stomach and when to this is added a total disregard of the quietude necessary for digestion, what can be expected to follow but inveterate dyspepsia?" Inveterate, indeed.
But then, its figurative meaning developed by mid-century, and we have Lowell say, "Every possible form of intellectual and physical dyspepsia brought forth its gospel." As on cue, a theological writer intoned, "The Christian life, in order to be healthy and strong, wanted excercise as well as feeding; too many were content to feed without serving, the consequence being spiritual dyspepsia." I suppose the serving is the "exercise" here? In any case, you see how a medical term was taken over by a literary person and then by a religious writer. Notice the way the term evolved, however. It went from science to figurative language to religion. I like that. Even today, dyspepsis refers primarily to a figurative or spiritual condition.
Normally in our day, however, the scientists invent all the words and keep them for themselves. It is both an indication of the power of modern science, as well as the relative intellectual pusillanimity of modern thinking, that we let them have all the terms.
Let's end with one more: dysphemism, which harks back to 1884 and means "the substitution of a disagreeable, offensive, or disparaging expression for an agreeable or inoffensive one." Be sure to distinguish this from dysphemia, which means "stammering." Though we have a reference to dysphemism going back to 1884, it seemed like a relatively new term, according to the following 1933 quotation, and it didn't appear in the Century. "Professor Carnoy, the distinguished French philologist, has coined the word 'dysphemism' as a set -off to 'euphemism,' to which it is directly opposed...'It consists, above all, in the substitution for dignified or simply normal terms, of expressions borrowed from spheres more vulgar, familiar, and joyous.'" Joyous? Well, maybe that is the way they spoke in 1933. Examples of dysphemism include "dead tree edition" for the paper version of an online magazine, or the American military personnel's use of "shit on a shingle," to describe a common breakfast of chipped beef on toast. Enough of this for now. Back to serious work.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long