A Word for Wednesday

I had the hardest time choosing a word for today. It will be the last of the S words so I wanted it to be especially interesting. I thought it might be fun to do the very last word in the S section of the dictionary, until I saw that this was the word:

Syzygy - n. [Gr. to join] The conjunction or opposition of a planet with the sun, or of any two of the heavenly bodies. On the phenomena and circumstances of the syzgyies, depends a great part of the lunar theory.

Yeah. I am not an astronomer. I can't even find all the basic constellations. I have no idea what a syzygy would look like to describe it, much less explain the history of lunar theory and then write a story around a stellar phenomena. So I abandoned my last-word-of-the-section plan, started flipping pages, and came across...

Swasher - One who makes a blustering show of valor or force of arms

I was all eagerness because I knew I could write a story around that. I could even explain that a swasher is different than a swash-buckler (who is actually "a sword-player; a bully or braggadocio"). But, it's not exactly an obscure word, so I kept looking. And let me tell you, original words get harder to find the farther you get into any given section in the dictionary. I finally found one I liked. It's related to a rather common word, but it's the original form and thus counts as obscure. At least, that's how I'm counting it because I like the look and sound of it.

Suveran - a. [from L. supernus, superus, super. The barbarous Norman word souvereign, seems to be formed of L. super and regnum; a strange blunder]
1. Supreme in power; possessing dominion.
2. Supreme; chief; superior to all others.
3. Supremely efficacious; Superior to all others.
4. Supreme; pertaining to the first magistrate of a nation

That sentence in the brackets makes me smile. "The barbarous Norman word...a strange blunder." Can't you just see Webster at his desk, shaking his head at the ineptitude of someone who had the audacity to put super and regnum together? I mean, really, what kind of folly is that?? Very strange indeed ;)

Google was decidedly unhelpful tonight, as was Wordnik and the several other pages I normally turn to for word-related research. None of them turned up anything, except that there is someone named "TheSuveran" on Twitter. So, other than the fact that suveran is father to sovereign, there's really nothing more to tell about it. I shall proceed directly to the excerpt then and, just for the fun of it, I'm going to try to incorporate swasher into the story as well.

"Oh, honestly," I pulled him away from the stall. "Must you be particular about absolutely everything?"

"Why, yes. How else do you suppose I succeed in my endeavors?"

"Careful, Rodger, you're about to trip over your pride."

He laughed, took the basket from me, and tucked my arm in his. "Indeed, I am. It is good of you to warn me."

"I'm surprised you did not see the threat yourself, since you are so very suveran in knowledge and endeavor."

He pulled up and turned to me with a reply when a commotion broke out in the market square ahead. Rodger dashed off. I followed on his heals. Melons were spilt all over the ground and a long-haired boy was in the center, his back against the tipped wagon, a sword in his hands. He was shouting and waving it wildly, pointing at no one and yet at everyone.

"Here," Rodger handed me the basket. "Now there's no telling what this swasher will do, so stay behind me."

"But -"

He looked straight at me. "Rose, stay here. And no do not try to rescue me, I beg you."

I folded my arms over the basket and watched him excuse his way into the open square.


7 Words + 7 Links

Today has been one of those really lovely days. The weather is perfect - the last taste of summer with the first taste of autumn. I got to study outside with the sunshine and warm breeze all around me and my little brother's laughter in the background. And then I got a great score on an exam I had to take. And, as if the fact that I'm now only 16 credits away from my degree, I got an award! It came all the way from Ireland (which isn't nearly as impressively far away as it sounds since places in the blogsphere are only clicks away not miles and miles), courtesy of Christine Murray. I'm supposed to match/link my own posts with the seven descriptive words given, and then pass it on to seven others. So here we go.

Most Beautiful: This one was easy. Because dreams are beautiful things and I wrote this on a beautiful day

Most Helpful: Oh dear, oh dear. Unlike so many of my fellow writers who blog, I don't post helpful things; unless words count, in which the majority of my posts could be classified as helpful. But I don't classify them that way. When I think "helpful," I think of all the grammar/query/writing-related instructional posts that so many of you have done. So...I'm going to go with this, to help you with insults. Because if we must insult, we ought to do so with wit!

Most Popular: This is actually my second most popular post. I'll tell you about the post that was really the most popular in a minute. But I'm so glad that so many of you liked this as much as I did. It gives me an excuse to post it again. And I'm always ready to post about how stinkin' sweet my little brother is. He'll be half-asleep walking to the bathroom at midnight, see that my light is on, and call me: "CayCay? I want to give you a hug."

Most Controversial: No one actually voiced controversy over this, which surprised me exceedingly. I kept checking for comments, waiting to cringe because I had offended or angered someone. That never happened, but the post certainly has the potential to cause controversy. At least, it's the only post I can find that comes even remotely close to fitting the "most controversial" category.

Most Surprisingly Successful: Technically, this post was the most popular. It had the highest number of page views (assuming the stats button is accurate), but I couldn't believe it. Why? Well, normally my Wednesday posts get at least one comment (Cherie should get a "Faithful Commenter" award for that. Seriously.) Not this time. I really liked the character in it and just assumed that no one else particularly cared for him or that the whole post was too long or, or, or. You can imagine my surprise, then, when it topped the stats listing!

Most Underrated: I'm going to go with my post on the Vikings for this one. I don't spend a lot of time talking about my manuscript or the research that went into it. I do try not to bore you to tears, so I've purposely refrained from telling you absolutely everything I know about Viking culture. I find it fascinating but, like most research, not all of it needs to be shared. That's the difference between great historical fiction (which gives you enough detail) and boring historical fiction (which suffocates you in detail). That said, the Vikings are close to my heart because there's so much more to them than the legend/stereotype/etc. Their non-pillaging qualities are vastly underrated.

Most Prideworthy: I'm proud of myself for actually starting a blog, so this category was easy. See?

I was going to write blurbs on the seven people I'm going to pass this 7X7 award on to but (a) I've spent too long on this post already. I really can't neglect my reading assignments any longer and (b) I can't do them justice in a matter of seconds. SO, know that every single person I link is fantastic and you should go browse their blogs. It's worth it.







and Lydia.


A Word for Wednesday

Spurious - a. [L. spurius] 1. Not genuine; not proceeding from the true source, or from the source pretended; counterfeit; false; adulterate. 2. Not legitimate; bastard

For clarity, I abridged the definition in first introducing this word. The unabridged entry includes these notes: "Spurious writings are such as are not composed by the authors to whom they are ascribed. Spurious drugs are common. The reformed churches reject spurious ceremonies and traditions. By the laws of England, one begotten and born out of lawful matrimony, is a spurious child. A spurious disease is not of the genuine type but bears a resemblance in its symptoms."

You see? This is another one of those words that has a very broad range of use :) And such words are great fun to play with. Aside from the fact that it's origin is Latin, I wasn't able to find any sort of history or historical context for this word. I was, however, able to find a number of passages where it's used. A few dealt with scientific experiments and medical procedures, but I couldn't make heads or tail of them. There were two, though, that showcase this word's use in very different contexts.

The first is from a collection of Letters from Port Royal written at the time of the Civil War.  “In the introduction to "Slave Songs of the United States," a collection made chiefly at Port Royal and published in 1867, this particular song is set down as spurious, that is, as being sung to a well-known "white folks '" tune.” Interesting, no?

The second is an excerpt from the Memoirs of the Jacobites of 1715 and 1745 Vol. II.  “The indignities which were wreaked upon the unfortunate Jacobites as they entered London have been detailed in the life of Lord Derwentwater. Amid the cries of a savage populace, and the screams of "No warming pan," "King George for ever!" an exclamation which proves how deeply the notion of spurious birth had sunk into the minds of the people, the Earl of Nithisdale was conducted, his arms tied with cords, and the reins of his horse taken from him, with his unfortunate companions, into the Tower.”

Between the Letters, the Memoirs, and the unabridged definition, you should now have an idea of when and where and how to use "spurious" :) Here's my use:

"I saw his mailed fist coming toward my face. I saw it and stood my ground. The pain would be awful, I knew, but not awful enough to tempt me to yield. The force of it threw me to the ground. I forced the black spots from my eyes, spit the blood out of my mouth, ignored the agony raging in my head, and stood back up. He had mounted his horse.

"You have until dawn. I will not have my holdings polluted by the likes of you." If lips could drip contempt, his would have.

"I'm not leaving," I said.

"You are the spurious seed of a spurious house and I will not have you in my sight!"

"That is not true!" I lunged for him, but his henchmen clamped down on me. I might as well as been in irons. So I shouted instead. "My father was a good man. How dare you speak of him that way."

His smile was as cold and crooked as the links of his mail. "You're a bastard, boy. How good could your father have been?"

I yanked at my arms but my strength did not avail me. "He was a better man that you. And I'm no bastard."

"Is that so? Well, well, I see that you're as ignorant as you are illegitimate. What a pity he never told you." He nodded to the men holding me. "Leave him."


A Word for Wednesday

Sortition - n. [L. sortitio] Selection or appointment by lot

From what I can gather, this word was largely - almost exclusively - used in the context of politics. It actually still exists in the electoral system today, but it is used to fill lower level offices (such as selecting jurors). In ancient Anthens, though, sortition was the primary method of appointing officials. In it's entry discussing Athenian politics, the Encyclopaedia Britannica  says, "The real effect of sortition was to equalize the chances of rich and poor without civil strife. Now it is perfectly clear that it could not have been this object which impelled Solon to introduce sortition; for in his time the archonship was not open to lower classes, and, therefore, election was more democratic than sortition, whereas later the case was reversed."

The use of the lot as a tool to fill political appointments was not particular to the Greeks. It seems the Romans used it as well, as mentioned in this passage from A History of Rome During the Later Republic and Early Principate. "The existing system did not even make it possible to elect a man who would certainly have the conduct of the African war; and if we suppose that in this particular case the division of the consular provinces did not depend on the unadulterated use of the lot, but was settled by agreement or by a mock sortition, the probity rather than the genius of Metellus must have determined the choice, for Silanus was assigned a task of far more vital importance to the welfare of Rome and Italy."

Edmund Burke made a similar complaint - that the lot has no eye to choose men suitablee to the position - in Vol. III of The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. "No rotation, no appointment by lot, no mode of election operating in the spirit of sortition or rotation, can be generally good in a government conversant in extensive objects: because they have no tendency, direct or indirect, to select the man with a view to the duty, or to accommodate the one to the other."

Sortition had one other historical use. And that was in the athletic arena. I found an article in Gerald P. Schaus' Onward to the Olympics: Historical Perspectives on the Olympic Games that said this: "The sortition procedure [...] apparently took place near the judges' seating. Small lots (mikroi kleroi), inscribed with letters, were thrown into a silver vessel that Lucian called a kalpis, dedicated to the god. The competitors prayed to Zeus, then each on picked a lot from the vessel. A whip-wielding mastigophoros was standing by to make sure no one looked at his letter." If you think about it, we have a sortition procedure in sports today. It involves a coin, a toss, and the definite absence of whip-wielding mastigophoros ;)

Now, generally, I try to incorporate some of the history and common usage of the word into my scenes. I'm not going to be able to do that this time. I tried, I did. As it turns out, though, I am incapable (at least right now) of writing a political scene or an ancient Greek one. Go figure. Anyway, here it is:

"This is absurd," I said, trying to fasten my cuff link and keep up with Jon. "Father knows how I feel about this."

"Yes, and he's chosen to ignore your opinion. Why are you surprised? You had to know this was coming."

"I'm not. I just - will you help me with this?" I stopped and held out my arm.

He fastened my link and then straightened my cravat. "Edmund, I know you don't like this. But you must follow Father's wishes. For all our sakes."
"Jon, I will not have my future or my happiness decided by sortition."

He licked his lips and glanced at his boots. "Ed, if you do not - "

"I know. Believe me," I took a breath. "I know."

He met my gaze again. "Tread carefully then, brother."

I nodded and he left me to face the ponderous double doors alone.


A Word for Wednesday

Sciolist - n, [L.sciolus, a diminutive formed on scio, to know] One who knows little, or who knows many things superficially; a smatterer

A smatterer. I like it. It reminds me a saying I heard one. I don't remember who said it or who they were describing, but the description went like this: "A jack of all trades and master of none." Sciolist conveys the same idea, I think, only regarding knowledge instead of skill.

Even though I always use my Webster's 1828 for the posted definition, I like to look the words up in several other places. Reading the variety of ways the same meaning is expressed often helps me get a better understanding of the connotations that are attached to the word. One dictionary put it this way: "a pretender of profound knowledge." I think I'll use that phrase next time I want to describe an arrogant know-it-all. The alliteration makes for a much more interesting sentence, don't you think?

I was able to find a number of works that used sciolist. I didn't recognize a single title or author and, for most of them, the excerpt made no sense whatsoever. I did find two, though, where I could trace the context quickly. The first was from a Classic French Course in English by William Cleaver Wilkinson, in which he discusses how various authorities view Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws. He considers it to be Montesquieu's masterpiece, but goes on to say, "By others, it is dismissed very lightly, as the ambitious, or, rather, pretentious, effort of a superficial man, a showy mere sciolist."

The second was from A Book for All Readers: An Aid to the Collection, Use, and Preservation of Books and the Formation of Public and Private Libraries by Ainsworth Rand Spofford. In this particular passage, Spofford writes about the different kinds of readers who resort to a library, saying, "And among the would-be readers may be found every shade of intelligence, and every degree of ignorance." He continues with a list, first describing the timid reader, and then "the sciolist variety, who knows it all, or imagines that he does, and who asks for proof of impossible facts, with the assurance born of the profoundest ignorance."

What a horrid way to be described, especially if such a description is deserved! A pretentious pretender of profundity. Ouch. In the abstract, though, it's great fun to say with all those Ps. But now I have to figure out how to use the actual word, not the expositions of it, in a story.

"The man standing before me was of the conniving sort. Oh, he hid it right well, under faultless speech, clothes of the highest fashion, and a pompous air that surrounded him like ladies' perfume. He meant no good, despite all his declaration of nobility. Of that much I was sure.

"I must interrupt you, sir," I said. "And ask you to take your leave."

He seemed genuinely surprise. "Is my proposition so odious to you?"

"Not at all. Your proposition, if it had any basis in reality, would be grand indeed. As it stands, however, I cannot justify the investment of my resources in such a ludicrous endeavour." I stood. "Good-day."

"You are mistaken, Mr. Tremont," he came forward with his hand outstretched. "Let me assure you of the prudence - "

"Mr. Walker, you have said quite enough. I advise you to spare both your breath and your time, for you are wasting them on me."

"I'm afraid I do not understand."

"Allow me to enlighten you." I clasped my hands behind my back and came around to the front of my desk. "I am very particular regarding the men I entrust my affairs to. I must have absolute confidence in the soundness of their minds and the strength of their characters. You fill neither requirement and so, again, I bid you good-day."

He glanced away, chuckling, and then back at me. "I think you'll find I do, upon closer acquaintance."

"I do not desire a further acquaintance with you, sir. I know precisely who and what you are. Your proposition made that most evident."

He raised his chin, a hard glint of pride flashing into his eyes. "And who am I, sir? Or what?"

"You are sciolist. The knowledge you claim to possess is superficial at best, and pretentious at worst. I want nothing to do with your schemes." I returned to my seat and bent over the affairs that were spread out on my desk. "My man will see you out."

(You guys, check out the time stamp. Seriously, look! It's HOURS and HOURS before midnight. I actually managed to post in the middle of the day instead of the very last second of it! I feel accomplished :)