A Word for Wednesday

Jejune - a, [L. jejunus, empty, dry] 1. Wanting; empty; vacant. 2. Hungry; not saturated. 3. Dry; barren; wanting interesting matter.

The noun variation of this word - jejuneness - has a similar definition, as it ought to, but with an added phrase that I think will help in understanding the use of the word. So: "Poverty; barrenness; particularly, want of interesting matter; a deficiency of matter that can engage the attention and gratify the mind."

I like to see examples of how these obscure (or at least obscure to me) words were actually used. I try every time but my searches usually come up dry. This time I found some! Two, to be precise. Both are from The Works of Lord Bacon: Philosophical Works.

I don't know how drinks fit into the grand scheme of Lord Bacon's philosophical ruminations, but the first passage I found is one where he is writing about the maturation of drinks and the spirits congregate. He says, "Wine hath them well united, so as they make the parts somewhat more oily; vinegar hath them congregated, but more jejune, and in smaller quantities, the greatest and finest spirit and part being exhaled: for we see vinegar is made by setting the vessel of wine against the hot sun; and therefore vinegar will not burn; for that much of the finer parts is exhaled."

In the second passage, Bacon seemed to be cataloging some sort of experiment he was conducting on different metals. I got lost in minuscule, scanned-in typeface when I tried to figure out the context so I'm afraid you'll have to do what I did and take it for whatever it is: "Gold is the only substance which hath nothing volatile, and yet melteth without much difficulty. The melting showeth that it is not jejune, nor scare in spirit."

What's most interesting to me is that the primary use of the word seems to have changed considerably from when Lord Bacon used it to when it appeared in our dictionaries. He uses jejune to describe physical objects or attributes. Now it seems to be used primarily to describe an intellectual deficiency or the hunger of the mind and/or emotions; "pparticularly, want of interesting matter; a deficiency of matter that can engage the attention and gratify the mind." I wonder when the understanding of how to apply the word, or to whom, changed.

Sadly, we'll probably never know. And since speculation won't be the slightest bit productive, onto the narrative :)

"I crested the peak and looked over the valley that spread out before me. It was a jejune sight. Nearly as jejune as my companion, whose labored breaths I could hear behind me.

"Why can you never give us a hand, Ned?" he said, coming up beside me, half bent over to recover himself.

I had given him a hand, two most times, from the first step of our journey. Apparently "they" had very little memory.

"What a frightfully dull place," he said, shielding his eyes from the sun.

"Indeed," I said. "But it is here out path lies."

I started down the incline, pebbles and choking dust skipping at my slightest motion.

"Wait. Ned. Where are you going?"


"Please, Ned, give us a rest. Just a wee one. We beg you."

Maybe it scalding heat of the sun. Maybe it was the veritable wasteland before me. Maybe it was the thought of all the days past and all the ones ahead that I would have to spend with him. Maybe it was some combination of all those things. I'm not sure. But I started shouting at him in the two steps it took me to return to the crest.

"Fine. Rest if you must. But only if you swear to me that you will stop calling yourself "us." You are not a plural. You are one man, as I am. You have a name, as I do. If you speak, speak for yourself. Tell me what you need or want or think. Not what "us" needs. Do I make myself clear?"

He shrank away from me. The fear in his eyes doused my anger quicker than water does a fire and I sat down, cursing myself.

"I am sorry, Robert," I said. "You did not deserve that."

"We -" I could almost hear him bite his tongue before he started again. "I forgive."

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