Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wednesday Words



interlocutory – of the nature of, pertaining to, or occurring in conversation; according to Cotton Mather, an interlocutory way of teaching is what we call catechizing.

phantasmagoria
– a display of optical effects and illusions; a constantly shifting complex succession of things seen or imagined.

ménage
– a household, housekeeping.
hagiography – biography of saints or venerated persons.

lieutenant
– a person who takes the place of another.


Now before you think I'm off my rocker because I have lieutenant listed as a new vocabulary word to me, bear with this explanation. True, I've heard, read, and used the word lieutenant before. But always in association with a military rank, and I've always had trouble spelling it. It has always seemed so foreign. I've never thought about it before, but it is foreign!

As I read this word today in John Donne's "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward," Donne writes

"Who sees God's face, that is self life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made his own lieutenant nature, shrink;
It made his footstool crack, and the sun wink."

And then the footnote:

"The word lieutenant is formed from two Old French words: lieu, which means "place," and tenant, which mean "hold." A lieutenant is a placeholder, that is, a person who takes the place of another."

As I read this explanation, I realized all at once, Why, yeah. I see now what combined had been obscure but separate, clear. Lieu and tenant. It makes perfect sense now. I even can spell it correctly now.

I just love it when the obscure becomes clear. Even when it is so simple.

2 comments:

Kathleen Hamilton said...

Wow! That's really cool. I love etymology.

Carol in Oregon said...

I can't wait to meet you someday, Janie. Our thinking is so similar.

What a lovely post. Lieutenant. I'll be smiling for a while!