World Wide Words
Issue 894: Saturday 6 September 2014
Feedback, Notes and Comments
Jentacular. Darryl Francis emailed, following my piece last week on this word for breakfast, to point out that jantaculum, a variant spelling of the Latin original, was used at Latymer Upper School in west London decades ago for an annual show. It was also used at Reading University around the same period for an annual feast and entertainment. How a word meaning breakfast should have become one for an evening event is difficult to understand. Perhaps a reader can help?
Farther and further. Edna Heard resurrected memories of an old television sketch by the British comedian Benny Hill in which standing passengers were asked to “pass farther down the bus”. An old man was pushed forward. This only works as comedy if farther is unusual and nobody pronounces their rs, which of course is true of much of Britain.
David Milsted recalls furth from Orkney, in the sense of “away from”. Donald Kerr mentioned the Scottish legal term Furth of Scotland, applied to persons, objects or obligations that are outside the legal boundaries of Scotland. Furth is a alternative form of forth, and helps to explain why further is regarded as a relative of it.
Curglaff. Chris Smith emailed from Shetland. He noted that gluff, as both noun and verb, meaning surprise or startle, survives in Shetland dialect. The Concise Scots Dictionary entry is under gliff, noting the variant spellings glaff, gloff, gluff and glouf. The same dictionary says that cur- is an intensifying prefix. That would make curglaff a severe shock.
He added, “I have no idea why curglaff should be specifically the shock felt when plunging into cold water; perhaps a Banffshire informant was having a little fun with Jamieson?”
Twig. Readers attempted to equate this British verb with Heinlein’s grok. I’d argue the senses are different. When you twig, you come to a sudden realisation, but of something simple or trivial. To grok is to comprehend something intuitively or to completely understand a matter in all its details and intricacies. As James Forder pointed out last time, one doesn’t twig the theory of relativity; however, one may grok it.
Occasionally, I come across a word that’s so rare and mysterious that it’s a struggle to find out anything about it.
This one turned up in an article in the Observer on 10 August by Lauren Laverne, who was looking for a word “for the mistaken belief that there is no English equivalent for a non-English word”. She noted Schadenfreude as an example of such a word, the pleasure that one derives from another person’s misfortune, which is from German Schade, harm and Freude, joy. She said an English equivalent does exist — epicaricacy. It does?
I tracked it down in Insulting English, by Peter Novobatzky and Ammon Shea, dated 2001. They say that it’s from Greek epi, upon, plus chara, joy, and kakon, evil. Fair enough, though why a borrowing from Greek should be more English than one from German is unclear. They also say it has “appeared in many old and esteemed dictionaries”. I can’t find a single one. Wiktionary says that it’s recorded in two works compiled by Nathan Bailey — the Universal Etymological English Dictionary of 1721 and the Dictionarium Britannicum of 1730 — but I can’t find it in either.
So far as I can discover, the earliest known recognition of epicaricacy is in Joseph Shipley’s Dictionary of Early English of 1955. I’ve found it in just two places — in the Times in May 2008 and in one novel:
Schadenfreude I know it is called. Or epicaricacy, as the English will have it. From the original Greek.
Retromancer, by Robert Rankin, 2009.
We must conclude it’s not a fine old English word, but an erudite modern coining known to hardly anybody and of limited interest. Novobatzky and Shea may have attracted enough attention to it that in time it might find a place in the language. Just don’t hold your breath waiting.
Dead discs. It’s a severe blow for velologists. We car-owning Brits must display a disc on the windscreen to prove we’ve paid the road tax, even though in my case the car’s rating means the tax is zero. But we only need to display discs until the end of September, as they have been abolished after 93 years. A velologist is a collector of tax discs and velology is the hobby. The initial vel comes from the discs’ formal name, vehicle excise licences.
Suck it and see. It was reported last week that the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health wants e-cigarettes to be renamed to try to reverse their appeal to young people. Their suggested name is nicotine stick, which I can’t help feeling will actually sound rather attractive. And, of course, it’s not new: it’s been round from the 1990s, if not earlier, as a slang term for tobacco cigarettes (a good example of a retronym, by the way) and more recently for e-cigarettes. If it does catch on, the first sign will probably be its abbreviation to nick stick, though that will annoy an American maker of shaving requisites.
Sham poo. One of my newspapers recently greeted me with two new words, new to me that is, though not to people deeply concerned with the quality of their hair. One was no-poo (no laughing at the back), short for “no shampoo”, the technique of washing hair with something other than commercial shampoos, which are claimed to strip off essential oils. The other word is co-washing, again not what you might think. It’s not being friends in the shower, but washing one’s hair with conditioner rather than shampoo.
Hide one’s light under a bushel
Q From David Siddons: Where did the phrase hide one’s light under a bushel come from — especially the bushel bit?
A For once I can give you chapter and verse for the origin, literal chapter and verse as it happens, since it’s from the Bible:
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
King James Bible, 1611, Matthew, 5:15 and 5:16.
The bushel was at the time a container for measuring dry goods such as grain or peas. It was typically a wooden bucket with a volume of eight gallons (though this has varied over place and time). In the original Greek text of the Gospel, the word used was related to seah, Hebrew for a rather smaller dry measure that held about a gallon and a half. King James’s translators chose bushel because it would be obvious to people of their day. Nobody now uses the bushel measure; more recent translations of the gospels have replaced it with basket, bowl or measuring basket.
To turn a bushel measure upside down and put a candle under it was to hide its light from view. We use hide your light under a bushel for somebody who figuratively does the same — who modestly stays silent about their talents or accomplishments.
There are thousands more the length and breadth of the country who work tirelessly for their communities and hide their light under a bushel.
The Sun, 18 Jul. 2014.
Though it’s always regarded as biblical, a related idea was in use before the King James Bible appeared. A poem in Tottel’s Miscellany of 1557, whose Latin title translates as The Whole World Lies in Wickedness, contains the line “Truth under bushel is fain to creep”.
• In a Slate article on a documentary about Burt Shavitz, founder of Burt’s Bees, Neil Hesketh found this: “He’s a peacenik who takes target practice with his handgun, a hermit and a businessman.”
• Margaret Condy wrote: “The following caption appeared in the Toronto Star of August 30: ‘Yannick Bisson, star of Murdoch Mysteries, at the hearth he built in his home with his family dogs Mack, left, a boxer and English bulldog Duke.’ I wish I had dogs that were that talented.”
• You’ve still time to book up for the Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting on 19 and 20 September, though you might not want to after reading the text that Gardin Carroll found on the Weekly Pint website: “At the festival’s premiere daytime event, you can eat and drink your way through artisans, wineries and breweries on both Friday and Saturday from 12-5pm.”