Palin and Lalia
Theological Terms I
Theological Terms II
Theol. Terms III
Noso and Noce/Nocu
Milton, Book I (PL)
Oo and Ovi
Labors of Hercules I
Oblectation et al.
Dissimulare et al.
Acroama et al.
Tetrous et al.
Commeate et al.
Obsolete et al.
Subtle et al. I
Hesitate et al. (Ovid)
Excoriate et al. I
Excoriate et al. II
The Gospel According to "Luc"
Bill Long 2/19/08
From Luctation to Lucrific to Luculent to Luctuous
When we see the letters "luc" at the beginning of a word, we should pause because of the many roots that lie behind that beginning. Indeed it is so frutiful that some words, like lucubration, which means "to work by candle light" (a lucubrus is a "faint light" in Medieval Latin) and, by extension, "to produce (literary compositions) by laborious study," are beyond the scope of this essay, interesting as they are. But behind the four words listed above are four different Latin words, each of which brings surprising gifts to those who love words.
Let's begin with luctation and, its most famous derivative in English, reluctance. The Latin verb behind it is luctari, to wrestle or to strive. A luctatio is a wrestling contest. The Oxford Latin Dictionary ("OLD") provides several similar words: luctamen is a struggle or exertion, luctator is a wrestler, and luctatus, a struggle or conflict. I like to think of it this way: if you are wrestling, you are "locked in a luct..." The only English word derived from all this, as mentioned, is luctation. It means "struggling; wrestling" or "agitation due to chemical reaction. Also, a struggling for breath." Thus, from 1693: "The Swelling and Luctation at his Breast, was as if he would burst.." The picture I get from this sentence is of a struggling, heaving, even writhing breast. But the world can simply mean a struggle. From 1660: "The luctation and combate of reason against the corporeal appetites."
Our word reluctant comes from reluctari, which means "to struggle against." The first (oldest) English meaning of reluctant is "struggling, writhing." John Milton could write (PL X.515), "Down he fell/ A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone,/ Reluctant, but in vaine." Don't you just love Milton in this sentence? We see the serpent vainly writhing to get free from his limited position (slithering along).
Now we are getting to my point. If you are reluctant to do something, you are not simply "hestitant" or "disinclined" to do it. Rather, you are twisting, writhing, struggling, wrestling with something. It has caught you up in its vortex and your refusal or unwillingness to do it can be likened to a great force which tears at your body and soul.
The Latin word luctus is an expression of grief, mourning or lamentation, especially over the death of someone. A luctifer is a sorrow-bringer, just like a crucifer carries a cross. Something luctiferous brings sorrow, is mournful or gloomy. Something luctific causes sorrow or mourning. Luctual is something producing grief and luctuous means "sorrowful" or "full of sorrow." Many of these words are only thinly attested in English, but the image created by the word is too important to lose. Something luctisonant is "mournful sounding." "The luctisonant air of Barber's Adagio for Strings sliced through the hearts of the listeners and reduced many to tears." I think the word that has the most possibilities in English is luctiferous--precisely because there are so many things that bring sorrows into our lives. "The luctiferous plague brought cries of despair from homes on every block of the city." A Billphorism: "pain is primarily an intelluctual issue."
Lucrum is the basic Latin word for "material gain" or "profit." The first meaning of lucre in English carries a neutral significance. Francis Bacon could write in 1605: "Men have entered into a desire of Learning and Knowledge...for lukar and profession." But already the "darker" side of lucre reared its head in the 1611 KJV. From I Sam. 8: "His sonnes...turned aside after lucre, and took bribes." At least a dozen words built off the root lucror (to acquire as profit, win, gain (money, etc.)) appear in the OLD; in the OED we have obscure words such as lucrate and lucratory, to go along with the familiar "lucrative" and "lucre." We associate generally positive thoughts with lucrative--a word designating something profitable or yielding gain. A lucrific deal is one "producing gain;" someone lucripetous is eager for gain (petere is the Latin word for "seek"). "The pastor thundered from the pulpit that we live in a lucripetous age, an age that really doesn't understand the nature of self-sacrifice." The Latin dictionary has a word that appears in no English dictionary--lucrifer, "something that brings gain." So, crucifer, lucrifer, luctifer abide, these three. I actually think that using the word lucrifer would aid us immeasurably: "The call from an old fraternity brother turned out to be a lucrifer he couldn't ignore." Again, the OLD has one more word formed off the stem lucr that we might use: lucrifuga--one who shuns gain." A proper Anglicization of it would be lucrifugous. On further thought, lucrifugous could go two ways. It could suggest a person who "flees money" (i.e., the opposite of someone lucripetous); it could also suggest someone whom money flees--i.e., a spendthrift. You just have to be clear on what you mean..
The final root I explore in this essay is derived from the Latin lux, lucis, which means "light." Something luculent is "full of light; bright, shining." But this is a rare usage today, even though a century ago a writer could say, "The most luculent of those pearls." If it is used today it refers to a kind of oratory--brilliant, admirable--or of argument--clear, lucid, convincing. A theological usage, which usage always seems to abound in earlier English examples, comes from 1603: "She was still confident in her Savior...as appeared by many luculent examples." Cotton Mather, in his Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), could speak of a "most luculent and practical exposition." Perhaps the most familiar word in English formed off the lux, lucis root is "lucid," which word really needs no exposition here.
The only other English words having "light" in them and beginning with "lucu," are formed from luculent (such as luculence, luculency), but several interesting ones also derived from lux, lucis are lucifer, lucifugous, lucigenous and luciform. In Latin lucifer merely means "light-bringing" or "light-bearing." In astronomy it is Venus, the morning star, when she appears in the sky before sunrise. How did Lucifer become associated with Satan, which is the second meaning of lucifer in most English dictionaries? Well, the name was applied figuratively to a king of Babylon by Isaiah:
"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!" (Is. 14:12).
By Shakespeare's and Milton's time in the 17th century, Lucifer was associated with the prince of darkness. From Henry VIII:
"And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,
Never to hope again."
Or, from PL x.425:
"Pandemonium, city and proud seat
Of Lucifer; so by allusion call'd
Of that bright star to Satan paragon'd."
By the way, the poetic meaning of paragon as a verb in the 16th and 17th century is "to compare or equate with or to."
The other words are quickly disposed of. Luciferous means something "that brings, conveys or emits light." Or, in more common usage today, something that brings illumination or insight. One might have a "luciferous theory" or "experiment." Something lucifugous flees the light. I see a Frankenstein sentence here.. Finally, something luciform "has the character of light" or "is luminous." But this term acquired a special sense in Neo-Platonic philosophy where the language of the "luciform vehicle of the soul" (to render the Greek augoeides ochema) was used. In Platonic philosophy the soul was united in this life to a terrestrial body, but it also has one (or maybe even two) more bodies which are diffused or "thinner" bodies. Seventeenth-century Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth explains this in his chapter called "Soul's Luciform" in The True Intellectual System of the Universe. The luciform body is an ethereal one but shut up in the terrestrial body like a light in a dark lantern. Some Christian exegetes even tried to take over the 17th Century Platonist language by talking about a the glorified "and luciform body" which will be caught up in the ..clouds (expositing I Thess 4:17), but this usage isn't an exact replica of its meaning among the Cambridge Platonists.
So, this is enough for one day, as we bring these fascinating roots to light.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long