The Words of December 2011

Fourteen “Words of the Day” from the last month.

Part 1 — Dictionary.com (Definitions and Origins. Date of First Known Use in English Taken from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, except where noted)

12/8: Copse [kops] (noun) a thicket of small trees or bushes; a small wood.  Origin: Copse is derived from the Old French word copeiz meaning “a cut-over forest” which originates in the Latin word colpaticum meaning “having been cut.” First Known Use: 1578

12/10: Adytum [ad-i-tuhm] (noun) a sacred place that the public is forbidden to enter; an inner shrine.  Origin: Adytum is from the Greek roots a- meaning “not” and -dyton meaning “to enter.” First Known Use: 1611

12/15: Veriest [VER-ee-ist] (adjective) utmost; most complete.  Origin: Veriest is obviously related to the word very, which derives from the Old French word verai meaning “true, real or genuine.”  The suffix -est makes a word a superlative, like fastest. First Known Use: Early 16th century (Oxford Dictionaries Online)

12/20: Lucent [LOO-suhnt] (adjective) shining.  Origin: Lucent comes from the Latin word lucentum meaning “to shine.” First Known Use: 15th century

12/23: Swaddle [SWOD-l] (verb) to bind an infant with long, narrow strips of cloth to prevent free movement.  Origin: Swaddle is related to the Old English word swath meaning “a bandage or wrap.” First Known Use: 14th century

12/26: Solatium [soh-LEY-shee-uhm] (noun) something given in compensation for inconvenience, loss or injury.  Origin: Solatium is a variation on the Medieval Latin word sōlācium, which shares the root with the word solace. First Known Use: 1817

12/31: Anamnesis [an-am-NEE-sis] (noun) the recollection or remembrance of the past.  Origin: Anamnesis is derived from the Greek roots ana (meaning “re-”) and mimnēskein (meaning “to call to mind”). First Known Use: c. 1593

Copse (see picture above) is one of only a handful of words that readily spring to mind for which I always remember the first time I encountered them. In this case, it was the first chapter of C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, which I read some years ago. The word copse stuck out, probably due to an inadvertent association I made with the word “corpse.” That association still makes the word slightly troublesome for me, and copse really can’t compete with words like “thicket” and “grove” in conveying the definition. But if the writer’s intention is to communicate the artificial nature of the grouping of trees, then copse does better for that purpose.

Adytum comes from a Greek word, so it speaks of the inmost rooms of ancient Greek temples that only the priests could enter. The Catholic Encyclopedia draws a connection to the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple, which was inaccessible to anyone but the high priest, and he only on the Day of Atonement. It’s a pretty fascinating concept, and one that I would not be too happy to see being taken lightly (like, I don’t know, as the name of a Death metal band). On the other hand, being a pagan term, I don’t mind that the word isn’t particularly well-known. “Shrine” is more than suitable as an alternative.

Veriest reminds us that the word “very” can still be used as an adjective, meaning “true.” The word has something of a Shakespearean ring to it, which will only rarely be appropriate. Yet again, I prefer another word, in this case “utmost.”

Lucent can mean “shining,” and it’s also related to “translucent,” carrying the idea of something clear. This is the first word of the month that I believe hits the sweet spot: it’s certainly a little fancy, but I think it’s easy to understand, and many of its rival synonyms tend to be overused. But chalk it up to personal taste, as well — I love the sound of this word much more than the three above it.

Swaddle has very famous connotations, and it was no accident that Dictionary.com chose the word two days before Christmas. The King James Version of the Bible (Luke 2:7) says that Mary wrapped the newborn Jesus in “swaddling clothes.” Apparently there’s some dispute today about whether or not tightly wrapping a baby is beneficial to the baby’s health. At any rate, there can be little doubt about what the word means, and I don’t think any other word rivals it for its very specific definition.

Solatium is a legal term, and so it’s most appropriate in that context. It is easily the youngest of these seven, only arising in Modern English in the nineteenth century. The word specifically refers to emotional harm rather than physical or financial, so the awarding of solatia could get a little fuzzy.

By far the most interesting applications of a word this month belong to anamnesis. The definition itself is quite simple and naturally calls to mind “amnesia” as an antonym. But this word is used in distinct ways in philosophy, liturgy, and medicine. First, in Platonic philosophy, it refers to a theory that seeks to explain innate knowledge by positing that “there are certain concepts or beliefs in the mind before birth,” and that much of learning only consists in remembering those concepts. Anamnesis, then, is the act of recalling what one already knew but never acknowledged. Second, in the Eucharist, Mass, or Lord’s Supper of the Christian liturgy, anamnesis specifically refers to the remembrance of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Finally, anamnesis is used as another word for “case history,” the physical history of a patient, given to the physician to help with the diagnosis. The differences among these three uses of the term make anamnesis easily the most complex word of these seven, while paradoxically the associations are so strong that the word probably can’t be used unless one of these specific things is the subject.  But it offers plenty to think about within that restriction.

Part 2 — Urban Dictionary

12/8: Sleep drunk (noun) when you’ve woken up from a nap and your mental state of confusion resembles that of a drunken state. Definition contributed in 2011

12/10: First nap of the day (noun) euphemism for sleeping late. Definition contributed in 2010

12/15: Banker’s dozen (noun) the opposite of a Baker’s Dozen where the customer receives 13 of a product for the price of 12; in a Banker’s Dozen the customer receives 11 of the product for the price of 12. Definition contributed in 2010

12/20: Nowhere story (noun) a tale or recount of an event or events that doesn’t ever reach a particular point or meaning. Definition contributed in 2009

12/23: Christmas eve eve (noun) in order to avoid the Christmas eve rush, everybody does their last minute Christmas shopping on Christmas eve eve, the result being that December 23rd is the busiest shopping day of the year. Definition contributed in 2006

12/26: Guaranteed left (noun) when you creep your way into an intersection with the intention to turn left, yet there is no end to oncoming traffic in sight. This way, when the light eventually turns red, you are guaranteed the quick left turn in the short delay between oncoming traffic stopping and the crossing traffic going. Definition contributed in 2009

12/31: New Year’s peeved (adjective) the feeling of not being invited to a friend’s New Year’s party. Definition contributed in 2008.

The Urban Dictionary gives five definitions for the phrase sleep drunk. Interestingly, three of those refer to a state of extreme fatigue, whereas the other two (including the one above) speak of being half-asleep, not quite awake yet. So, clearly, if the word is going to stick, one of those will have to prevail. Maybe there are some similarities between struggling to stay awake and struggling to awaken after a nap, but I think the definition chosen for the “Word of the Day” is the better one. Drunkenness requires an excess, not a dearth, so it makes more sense for a sleep drunk state to occur when one is trying to awaken fully. With that settled, the metaphor is a bit strained, but certainly a state of partial wakefulness carries with it a merely partial control of one’s body.

First nap of the day is my least favorite of these seven. It’s somewhat awkward, and far from the most clever way possible of joking about sleeping late. But it’s all right.

Banker’s dozen is a nice bit of satire. The phrase it spoofs, baker’s dozen, is said to have come from bakers in Medieval England who would add an extra loaf to a sale to guard against the buyer being cheated, lest the baker face dreadful punishment. Fast-forward to today, when, as the phrase would have it, just the opposite occurs at a bank. As Wiktionary describes it, money is lent, but “the interest is deducted beforehand,” so that the borrower gets less money than he intended to borrow and less than he will have to pay back. Occasionally the Urban Dictionary is nicely topical; this is one of those times.

Nowhere story is my favorite Urban Dictionary phrase this month (and notice how none of the seven is just one word). It uses the right words for the right meaning, and it excellently conveys the frustration of someone encountering such a story. It’s been rare for me to consider adding something from the Urban Dictionary to my own vocabulary, but if I start hearing this one elsewhere, I absolutely will.

Christmas eve eve: this one is a slippery slope; Christmas has become so commercialized that the next thing you know, Halloween will start being called Christmas eve eve eve eve eve… fifty-five eves! You laugh now, but just wait. Anyway, the definition on this one is apt. It reminds me of a Yogi Berra saying: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” The way people react to things, soon Christmas eve eve will get a reputation for being too busy, and smart shoppers will get it done on December 22. And there’s my slippery slope again.

I include guaranteed left here mostly because of personal experience. I almost failed my first driver’s license test because of a guaranteed left situation. The instructor informed me that, had I failed to execute the turn before the light went red, it would count as running a red light. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but the lesson was not to pull into an intersection unless a space opens to turn. Since then, I’ve never done a guaranteed left maneuver without thinking about that test. And I haven’t done it often. (Ahem.)

There’s not much to say about New Year’s peeved. It’s a pun, and we all certainly need more puns in our lives. All I can say is that if this phrase keeps the word “peeved” in circulation, that’s worth celebrating.

(Honestly, it would feel sacrilegious to make a sentence combining words from the two lists. So here’s two sentences, one for each.)

Within the copse that swaddled the veriest adytum, a lucent beam pierced through.

Feeling sleep drunk after the first nap of the day, he had no choice but to listen to his roommate’s nowhere story about feeling New Year’s peeved and bored.

One response to “The Words of December 2011

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