6. Page 41-50
Bill Long 4/25/05
I am afraid that I will have to digress for a little while before getting to 41-50. There are just too many interesting words from 31-40 that call for attention. Well, I don't have to give much play to ambry or ambivert (a person who "balances" the opposed types of extrovert and introvert) or even amaurosis, which means blindness, but I want to say a word about ambsace and amice. The former creates a pleasant word picture in our mind, while the Century has such great pictures of the latter that I simply can't pass them by without mention.
Ambsace (AM zace)
The Century also has this listed as ambes-ace and that makes sense, since this spelling accurately describes its origin. It is derived from two Latin words, ambo, meaning "both," and as, meaning "ace." Thus it is a throw of a dice where both come up "aces" or "ones." It is the lowest throw of the dice. By extension, then, it means ill luck or misfortune. A 1721 quotation captures it nicely, "My evil genius flings Am's Ace before me" (interesting spelling, isn't it?). Fielding said, in 1731, "If I can but nick this time, ame's-ace I defy thee." Other examples of it as the actual throw of the dice are prevalent. Shakespeare has it, in All's Well that Ends Well, "I had rather be in this choice than throw ames-ace for my life." Lowell has an interesting literary use of the term, quoted in Century:
"Aeschylus, it seems to me, is willing, just as Shakespeare is, to risk the prosperity of a verse upon a lucky throw of words, which may come up the sices [i.e., both come up as 'sixes'] of hardy metaphor or the ambsace of conceit."
Now isn't that clever of Lowell? Isn't that the writer's life--risking the prosperity of prose/verse upon a lucky throw of words?
I have to pause on amice not because the word is so difficult or the meaning unclear but because the Century has such great pictures of it. The Collegiate's definition is uninspiring enough: "a liturgical vestment made of an oblong piece of cloth usu. of white linen and worn about the neck and shoulders and partly under the alb." Sounds like a student just trying to memorize something without getting to the heart of the phenomenon. Well, the Century has not one but three pictures of an amice, which it confesses may also be spelled almuce or aumuce, but the Collegiate knows neither of these spellings.
One sense of amice is exactly as said in the Collegiate. But two of the pictures show that it can be worn in two ways. It can be worn as an ornamental collar around the neck, under the alb, but can also be drawn over the head until the more solemn parts of the mass were reached, at which point it was "turned down" to become a collar. Thus, it can be worn as a hood, though it is only about three inches wide and about twenty in length. Why? It is supposed to symbolize the "helmet of salvation" which Paul talks about in Ephesians 6, with which Christians are supposed to clothe themselves. So, put the "helmet" on during the "preliminaries" of the mass; then when you turn to the distribution of the elements, it becomes a collar. A two-in-one vestment.
But there is another meaning of amice, which the dictionary wants to emphasize. It can be a "furred hood having long ends hanging down the front of the dress, something like the stole." It was worn by clergy in the 13th-15th centuries, apparently to keep warm. It still can be used for ceremonial purposes. The word itself comes from the Latin amictus, which is an upper garment, such as a mantle or cloak. Aren't you glad I took this verbal detour?
Returning to Reality
Well, let's at least start pages 41-50. I learned the word amniocentesis and all amnio-related words when my first child was born in 1982. Moving on. Amole, with accent on the penult [look it up if it isn't clear!] comes right after amok, but means "a plant part possessing detergent properties." If someone is amort, s/he is at the point of death. It probably derived from a la mort meaning "to the death" or "at the point of death" but I am sure that they got rid of the "a la" so people wouldn't think it had anything to do with apple pie and ice cream. A favorite rhetorical term of mine comes next, and even though I know how to spell it, I look for any excuse to use it. It is amphibology and it means, literally, "speaking in two ways." An amphibology is a statement that is ambiguous or can be taken in two ways. The example given in the Collegiate is a great one: "Nothing is good enough for you." Try that on for size and decide if you want to use it.
As I was going on in pages 41-50, it dawned on me that there were lots of characters from Greek mythology who appeared not only in those pages but also in the "A's" generally. I ran into Alpheus and Arethusa, Alcmene and Amphitryon, Alcestis and Admetus and, in these pages, Amphion. I used to know all the stories of these people "cold," but since I spent my youth from age 18-23 memorizing the Bible, I completely forgot some of the more obscure Greek myths. Thus, it has been a struggle for these stories to "flow" for me. Mention Ahimaaz or Nabal and I will give you chapter and verse and everything you ever wanted to know (or not) about them, but I seem to have to look up the stories of these Greek characters after I have already learned them three or four times. Frustrating, but maybe someday they will be as firmly fixed as the biblical stories.
So, then we have amphiprostyle, a word that plunged me back into ancient Greek architectural terms. I ended up spending several minutes "refreshing" myself on the difference between peristyles and adytons and cellas and various kinds of columnar formations around a temple. Amphiprostyle is defined as having columns at both ends only. Thus, a single row of columns at the front and back of the porch, but none on the sides.
Let's finish with a really attractive word: amphisbaena, meaning to come or go at both ends, and it refers to a "fabulous venomous serpent supposed to have a head at each end and to be able to move in either direction." Milton even mentions the term in Paradise Lost, where he dilates on "Complicated monsters head and tail,/ Scorpion, and asp and amphisbaena dire.." The amphisbaena is supposed to be scary because it can bite you from both ends. Alexander Pope wrote, "Thus Amphisbaena (I have read) At either end assails; None knows which leads, or which is led, For both Heads are but Tails." So if you had said to such a creature, "Heads you win, Tails I lose," you probably would have been right.
Oops. Out of space, and still only beginning 41-50. I can tell this will be a long day.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long