Winning Words III
Bill Long 6/13/05
Wandering Far Afield
Before returning to my essay on ustulation and various words that suggest roasting, burning or raging, I want to take a mental break for a minute to mention a few "winning words" that are so simple that they would not even be used in the first round today. Do you realize that the following words won the kid's Bee in the following years: 1940 therapy; 1948 psychiatry; 1956 condominium? On the one hand one might argue that words have gotten more difficult and obscure as time goes on--surely that is part of it, but another huge part is the fact that NO ONE was in therapy in 1940 (the therapy revolution didn't explode until after WWII), and that psychiatry was still a rather suspect field in the late 1940s. Indeed, the condominium craze didn't really hit until the 1970s, and before that time the legal arrangements for such a concept had not been developed. So, just remember. What is a tough word today might be a breeze tomorrow. Who knows if everyone will be going around spelling "autochthonous" before s/he reaches age 5 by 2040?
8 and 19 (Continued). So, we have seen how furibund means raging or roaring, while ustulation means to burn. The latter word is rooted in ustion, which is defined as the action of burning, searing or cauterizing. "Ustion or burning was the remedy most used." But, not to abandon the figurative meaning of the word as "lust," I discovered another 17th century quotation used in this way: "Marriage,..the sole allowed remedy against..burning lusts; by the apostle (i.e., Paul)..commanded in case of ustion to all men." Let's return now to that part of the definition of ustulation which said "torrification."
Well, torrification isn't in the OED, but torrefication is; only that word is said to be erroneously formed off torrefaction. Thus to torrefaction we go. It is the process or state of being roasted and dryed. As one quotation has it, torrefaction is like siccation, but more violent. Thus, "here was not a scorching or blistering but a vehement and full torrefaction." But there is another term that captures the vehemence of torrefaction--calcination. Now we are getting someplace. The first definition of calcination is "the action or process of calcining; reduction by fire to a 'calx,'..." And, what is a calx? Literarily meaning "lime," calx was a term of the medieval alchemists and early chemists to describe a powder or friable substance produced by thoroughly burning or roasting a mineral or metal--thus driving away all its volatile parts.
Back to Furibund
Now let's return to furibund and take another unexpected journey. Recall that furibund, derived from furere (to rage), meant to be furious or raging. Phrases using it are easy to find: "The furibund utterances of ultramontane journalism" or "Strangely jocular in his furibund movements." But then one of the earlier usages took me on another journey. From Ben Jonson in 1601, giving us a list of affected words: "Oblatrant, Obcaecate, Furibund, Fatuate..." I decided I needed to follow up on these words, just to make sure I have them down closely. Oblatrant (oblatration/oblatrate), from the Latin word meaning "to bark, rail or carp at", means "railing, reviling" or "scolding." A religious use from the 17th century: "The Apostle feares none of these currish oblatrations." From a little later in the century comes, "He that feareth oblatration must not travel."
Obcaecate may be more difficult to pronounce but means "blinded; blind; uncomprehending; or lacking spiritual vision." This word could also be written occaecate. The OED explains that though both Latin forms are attested, English picked up the "Ob" a slightly earlier than the "Oc," even though attestations for both forms are about the same. But you can form all kinds of nice words off of both of these. For example, we have attested occaecated (e.g., the occacaeted Tobit) and occaecation. "In addition to the misery of this inward occaecation, that is ever joined with a secure confidence.." [John Donne used the obcaecaetion form of the word in 1631: "A heavy blindnesse, and obcaecation..]. I think there might be many occaccasions for using occaecation, don't you? It might be especially useful in a preaching context, to describe the willful or even ignorant blindness of people.
But there is one more affected word listed by Jonson: "fatuate." Fatuate means to become silly or act foolishly and someone who is fatuated has been rendered foolish. I used to have a colleague in my first teaching job who was always concluding that others were "fatuous" (i.e., foolish, vacantly sillly, stupid), but the more usual use of the term today is as part of the longer word "infatuated," which means to "make or become utterly foolish." As Edmund Burke said in 1778(!)--"What the infatuated ministry may do, I know not; but our infatuated House of Commons..have begun a new war in America." One is not only made infatuate in love, but one can demonstrate infatuousness in a number of human activities. Instead of the "in" serving to negate the word that follows it, it serves her to intensify it. A fatuate person is also an infatuate one.
Now, after that pleasant post-prandial vibration, as Jeremy Bentham wanted to call an afternoon walk, we are ready to move on down the list.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long