Invigilant et al.
Property Terms I
Property Terms II
Property Terms III
Shining Words I
Shining Words II
Rhetorical Devices I
Rhetorical Devices II
Rhetorical Devices III
Rhetorical Devices IV
Maxims of Equity I
Maxims of Equity II
Maxims of Equity III
Fun with Idio....
Bill Long 10/19/04
From Idiot to Idiorrhythmic to Idiolect--more than just a League of One's Own
I suppose we should begin the treatment of Idio.. with a brief mention of idiot, even though I don't want to dwell long on this word. In Greek an idiotes was a private person, a common man or one without professional knowledge, and thus ill-informed or ignorant. Idios, the adjective, could mean private or one's own. Thus, the word can point both to the individual or private nature of the person as well as the uneducated, foolish or mentally deficient nature of someone. The 17th century theologian Jeremy Taylor speaks of "the holy and innocent ideot, or plain easy people of the Laity" or "St Austin [i.e., Augustine] affirmed that the plain places of Scripture are sufficient to all laics, and all idiots or private persons."
By the 18th century, Blackstone records the legal signification of the term: an "idiot, or natural fool, is one that hath no understanding from his nativity." This is to be distinguished (law revels in distinctions) from a lunatic, whose "lack of understanding" only comes out on periodic, or lunar, occasions. Though the term idiot has a derogatory connotation whenever it is used today, the English words formed off the idio... root stress more the individuality, peculiarity or privateness of the thing to which the idio is attached. Two examples of this are idiorrhythmic and idiolect.
Take a second to pronounce the word. It almost leaps off the page at you with a definition that is not its attested definition. Actually the word does not appear in the OED, but is listed in other unabridged dictionaries. I will start with what I would like the word to mean, since the ultimate goal of using a language, in my mind, is to refine our idiolect, our unique personal language system (more on that in the next essay). Well, I would like idiorrhythmic to have a "Thoreau-like" meaning as "marching to the beat of a different (one's own) drummer." You can so clearly see "private rhythm" or "individual rhythm" in idiorrhythmic that you wonder why it has never been so attested in our language. So, before we move to its "classical" meaning, I would urge you to use it in the sense just described, as our "own rhythm." We are most happy when we are most idiorrhythmic. Used in a sentence it would be: "His idiorrhythmic nature was not only evident in always listening to his Walkman, but also in his political and gastronomic choices." Idiorrhythmia, rather than arrhythmia (if idiorrhythmic, which has theological implications, can be freed from them, we ought also to loose arrhythmia from its medical connotation) should be our goal.
The Dictionary's Idiorrhythmic
But that is not how the word is defined. Idiorrhythmic means "self-regulated; consisting of self-governing members: an eptithet of those convents of the Greek Church in which each member of the community is left to regulate his own manner of life." So we are thrown into the world of Greek Orthodox monasticism with this word, and where better to get an explanation of the phenomenon than studying the life in the 20 monasteries and several sketae (surrounding dependent monasteries) of Mount Athos in Greece? As the colorful and attractive web site of these monasteries says:
"the monasteries divided into two categories, coenobitic and idiorrhythmic. The difference between them is this: in the coenobitic monasteries, as the word denotes, everything is communal; shelter, work, food and prayer, whereas in idiorrhythmic houses, although prayer and shelter remain communal, work and food are regulated by the individual monk to his own tastes."*
[*The Mount Athos community has endured many changes in the past 50 years. The number of monks was declining precipitously in the 1960s, so that at one point fewer than 1200 monks resided in the 20 monasteries, with the average age of more than 55. However, in the last decade the monasteries seem to have rejuvenated themselves. More than 1000 new monks have entered in the last generation (I have not seen a total figure of monks today), and the median age has fallen considerably. Though most monks are not university-trained, a significant minority are now entering from "non-Orthodox" lands, mostly Western Europe, who are more highly educated than earlier generations of monks. This 1000-year-old series of monasteries, which are receiving repairs and face-lifts as I write this, is a tribute to the power of the monastic ideal in a world awash in materialism.]
As you might suspect, there is much more to the description than is given. Although you can have both types of houses, once a house becomes coenobitic it cannot revert back to being idiorrhythmic. Though the web site doesn't go into the reasons for this, one might imagine that jealousy and judgmentalism would creep in if the standards among the monks were too divergent. For example, in an 1887 book describing the life on Athos, the author says that if a monk is rich he might have an entire suite of apartments, but if poor he must live in a small cell.
Kathleen Norris, in The Cloister Walk, her book about spiritual formation and the monastic life among the Benedictines in Minnesota, says with only slight overstatement that one of the biggest problems monasteries face is monks whose mothers buttered their bread in different ways. Personal differences and preferences are magnified in communal living and can lead to a breaking point if not addressed. Thus, the idiorrhythmic practices of some of the monasteries are really concessions to the "world": the monasteries need rich monks to fund the venture. But, whenever the "world" interposes itself into the rarefied life of a monastic community, you know that it will not simply take up residence meekly in the corner of the community; it will soon move to the center.
I had so much fun on idiorrhythmic that I didn't get to the other idios... But that is just my idiorrhythmia. I'll bid adios now so we can turn to another idios.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long