Ass and Name
Zola and Zoilus
A few Neos
What's in a Nem?
Pleo III-Two More Pleons
Achron.. and Acroam..
Per IV--Perpotation et al.
Per and Pre--Prevenient
Perpense and Perpend
Epi I--Epiplexis, et al.
The Doric Column
Epi III--Episemon et al.
Zoilus and Zola
From Proper Names to Useful Words
People bequeath not simply their possessions to their children but, on occasion, their names to the larger vocabulary of the language. Yet, it seems to me there is a fundamental ambiguity in the latter process. Just as there can be a "will contest" when the former is unclear, why not permit a "word contest" when the latter is up for discussion? The two words/word groups examined today both seem to have leave a clean legacy, but I want to see if I can muddy the waters, especially for one.
The Clear One--Zola. Actually, there is no word "Zola" in English, because that is the name of the French novelist (1840-1902). The word that appears in the OED is "zolaism," and is meant to suggest something reminiscent of Emile Zola's style. That style was, as the OED tells us, "marked by an excessively realistic treatment of the coarser sides of human life." You can then come up with all kinds of words, that don't seem to be worth much in my book, like zolaesque or zolaize, to try to show indebtedness in some way to the great Emile. But I think the basic words zolaism and zolaistic have a utility, even if you probably won't want to use them more than 9 times in your life (for example, a zolaistic comment or zolaistic description).
Zoilus. As with many characters from antiquity, the material is more suggestive and potentially more problematic than with modern figures. Zoilus was a fourth century B.C. Cynic philosopher/rhetorician whose works survive only in fragments but whose claim to fame was his attack on Homer for his depictions of the Olympian deities in less-than-worthy situations (sleeping with humans, jealousy, irrationality, etc.). Plato was the first "big" philosopher to castigate Homer, in Republic Books II and III, and Zoilus was one of those who took up the attack a few years later. Actually, Aristotle, Plato's famous pupil, defended Homer against Zoilus' attack in a work that has been lost. So vigorous were his attacks that in antiquity Zoilus was known as the "Homeromastix," or the "scourge of Homer." (Now, there's a word--mastix, mastig--that should require a mini-essay).
Modern unabridged dictionaries usually say that both Zoilus and Momus were carping critics, and that therefore the difference between "zoilean" (which is OED-attested) and "momilian" (which I thunk up on my own) is negligible. Therefore, a vigorous or vicious attack on someone's ideas may be zoillitical and the person imitating Zoilus in his attack may be a zoilist or a practitioner of zoilism. But be sure to keep the "li" in zoilism lest you fall into zoism and then be introducted to another huge word family and philosophical system having to do with the doctrine holding that there is some kind of basic life principle in the universe. We will want to get there eventually, of course but for now we are carping at the world rather than trying to describe its life principles.
An ambiguity. But, to use that most over-used cliche, when all is said and done, why must we use zoilism, zoillitical, etc. to mean something to do with carping criticism? Of course, to do so would be to use it as the OED suggests. But, why do it that way? Why not read the life of Zoilus not as one who was the "scourge" of Homer but one who stood up for "family values" 2300 years ago? That is, why not see him as one who wanted Gods that would be worthy of imitation for humans? By criticizing Homer he was not just being negative but was clearing the ground, so to speak, for a more positive statement. Well, we really don't know enough about him to say if he did have a positive philosophy. That he followed the Cynic school did not necessarily mean that he despised all things however; indeed, the Cynics in Hellenistic antiquity were equivalent to some "street preachers" of today, encouraging things such as simple life, honesty in speech and self-reliance.
I doubt if my more positive reading of Zoilus would lead to another use of Zoilean in English to mean something else, such as a "moralistic critic" or "first upholder of family values," but I think it shows that the use of proper names as the basis for English words can be rather mono-dimensional and, if mono-dimensional, open for criticism. So, I have created a problem, I hope, where no one knew that a problem (or word) even existed.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long