Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I am running so very, very late today. I'm dreadfully behind on all your blogs, and even on returning comments on my own (so sorry!). And I miss being involved with all of you but, like everything else, blogs have seasons. I'm in the Bare-Minimum Season ;) Nonetheless, I am happy to introduce our newest letter of the alphabet - the straight-laced N - and give you November's first word:
Nihility - n. [L. nihilum, nihil, nothing; ne and hilum] Nothingness; a state of being nothing
I chose this word before I left for jiu-jitsu class. It took me till now (three hours later) to realize that it's related to nihilism. Yes, I am that tired and scatterbrained at the moment. Nihilism I recognize; it was one of the worldviews I studied in school. But nihility? It sounded all new and different and so I picked it. And I'm sticking with it because a) I'm already in the ni- pages and it's only the first week of the month so I can't be tremendously picky at this point, b) it is the parent word for nihilism and thus a form not regularly used, and c) it sounds great in dialogue, which makes things significantly easier for me when I'm in a time-crunch.
My search for the origins of this word, or any kind of history surrounding it, came up dry (unless you count the title of an heavy metal album, which I don't). Wordnik was quite helpful in providing some usage examples. I didn't recognize any of the authors - I suppose that's what happens after two weeks of Milton - but familiarity is hardly necessary to showcase use. The following passages are from The Three Cities Trilogy: Rome by Emile Zoa.
"[Pierre] had once visited a coal pit in Belgium, and here he found the same narrow passages, the same heavy, stifling atmosphere, the same nihility of darkness and silence. The flamelets of the candles showed merely like stars in the deep gloom; they shed no radiance around."
"Then, too, the eyes which [Bottecelli] bestowed on his figures, eyes of langour and passion, of carnal or mystical rapture, their joy at times so instinct with grief as they peer into the nihility of human things that no eyes in the world could be more impenetrable."
"And it was the sky then which became all purple and gold, displaying the infinite placidity of a supernatural radiance above the earth which faded into nihility."
"In vain did Pierre seek the Janiculum. In the depths of that ocean of nihility all sunk and vanished, Rome's four and twenty centuries, the ancient Palatine and the modern Quirinal, even the giant dome of St. Peter's, blotted out from the sky by the flood of gloom. And below him he could not see, he could not even hear the Tiber, the dead river flowing past the dead city."
"Ah! Those interminable and lugubrious passages, that frigid and gigantic staircase which seemed to descend into nihility, those huge halls with cracking walls where all was wretchedness and abandonment!"
What I like about these passages is that nihility can be used, and used well, to describe settings and atmosphere. Given that nihilism, as a school of thought, it focused entirely on the nothingness of human experience, I was afraid that nihility would have a similar focus. Certainly, it can be used to describe humanity (such as in the example regarding Bottecelli's paintings). I was quite pleasantly surprised, though, at how effectively it can be used to describe things like darkness and gloom and silence. It replaces the word "nothingness" rather nicely, and adds a ring of sophistication. Instead of saying something faded into nothing, you can say it faded into nihility. And that's a far more interesting way to put it, even though it means exactly the same thing. If you read the above passages again, inserting nothing or nothingess wherever nihility is, you'll see what I mean. The sentences have a different sound to them that evokes a different feeling. There's more foreboding. Nihility sounds like a place the stairs lead to, instead of them just going nowhere. Does that makes sense? I feel like I'm talking in circles. So, I'm going to move onto the story before I get dizzy ;)
"Welcome to the underworld, gents." Torch-light threw shadows over the man's face. He was hardly visible; his dirt-grimed form just another shade of black. "I'll brook no nonsene from the lot of you. I don't care where you're from. I don't care what your story is. You're mine now. That's all I care about. Now get to work."
I took the pick I was handed, and the shovel that was slammed into my side when I spared a glance at my surroundings. I followed the others forward. I was crawling soon, the earth around me everywhere with a clamy embrace. The tunnel opened soon enough into a cavern. There were hundreds of men. Some boys even. All of them picking away at the walls, with sharp, rythmic rings. I headed for an open space before one of the foreman could shove me into a place. I sunk the pick into the rock, and was slammed onto my back.
"Are you ready?" A pair of wide, bloodshot eyes was all I saw. "Are you ready for the darkness?"
I shoved him off me but he only grabbed me again.
"Are you ready for gloom and despair? Are you ready for the nihility of this place? It will consume you. Be ready."
He let go and hobbled off into the shadows until he disappeared entirely.