Dr George’s Friends’ Old-fashioned Fancies (Wordy Weekly XXXI)

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

Following last week’s post, I had some jolly messages from friends (yes, I do have friends…despite the puns!) who offered their own favourite old-fashioned fancies. Courtesy of my friend Cat, we have peripatetic, from Lucy, deleterious and apotheosis, and from Jo supercilious. Oh, and celerity from my husband. Two Latin, two Greek, one surprise.


I will take them in the order that they appeared like birds of good omen on my Facebook wall, and then from my ever-patient husband watching me type more Classics nonsense (sorry), nuggets of wisdom.



PERIPATETIC (Cat)

The Peripatetics were the adherents of Aristotle’s philosophy. The term comes from the Greek verb περιπατεῖν ‘to wander around’. This was believed to be connected with Aristotle’s manner of teaching, wandering around the Lyceum of Athens. From the verb comes the adjective περιπατητικὸς, ‘given to wandering around’. So, if you call someone ‘peripatetic’, they are ‘wandering’, if you call something ‘peripatetic’, you are calling it ‘wandering’ or more pejoratively, ‘unsettled’. A peripatetic state of affairs is a state of flux and changeability. It is so sad this word is not used more. Finally, there is the term ‘dramatic peripeteia’. This denotes a dramatic change of plot direction or a reversal of fortune for a character in a story, particularly Greek tragedy. For example, Oedipus Tyrannus starts with Oedipus, desperate to save Thebes by discovering Laius’ killer. We move through his angry altercation with Tiresias, his accusation of Creon for plotting against him, and finally the revelation that he is the man he seeks. His world collapses. he must have been blind not to realise sooner. (okay, that was tasteless!)



DELETERIOUS (Lucy)

‘it would be detrimental and deleterious to my career’, so squawks Lina Lamont, quoting her contract in Singin’ in the Rain when faced with being replaced by the smooth voiced Kathy Seldon as the great star. ‘deleterious’ simply means ‘causing ruin’, ‘destructive’. My immediate assumption about this word was that it came from an adjective deleterious (Latin) that stemmed from the Latin verb deleo, delere, delevi, deletus, specifically the fourth principal part, the perfect passive participle. The verb means to ‘destroy, erase’, well…’delete’. But when I looked at etymonline.com, it said that it came from Greek. There are indeed the following Greek words, with this marvellous, but forgotten, English word deriving from the second:


δηλητηρ - destroyer

δηλητηριος - noxious, harmful, destructive

δηλητηριωδης - noxious, harmful, destructive


Transliterated, the second word is, ‘deleterios’. So, slightly embarrassed I hadn’t clocked that connection, despite knowing the Greek word, but happy to have learnt something. I do also strongly suspect either that the Latin verb comes from the Greek, or that they both come from the possible Indo-European parent language. Right, to the next word. I must be careful not to hit the ‘delete’ button and that would be ‘deleterious’ to this document. I tried.



Well, we have now come to the middle word and this week’s wordy weekly is about to reach its APOTHEOSIS.


APOTHEOSIS (also courtesy of Lucy): ‘deification’, ‘elevation to grandeur’, ‘the high point of soemthing’. The word is Greek and it is essentially a transliteration of, ἀποθειωσις, and there is also the verb ἀποθειοῦν ‘to deify’ or ‘to clothe in religious language’. It is a compound word which breaks down as follows:


ἀπο - away from; (here) change, or complete

θεος - god


The suffix -ις turns it into a noun. A lovely example of an English usage of the word comes from Sarah Anne Curzon’s poem, ‘The Legend of the Earth’:


And He hears,

The mighty Alleluia of the stars,

The choirs of glowing spheres in whirling flood,

Of song and high apotheosis,

All surging to His feet in incense clouds.”


I also came acrss the following article from August 2021, called ‘The Apotheosis of Donald Trump’. Er…interesting.

https://hidesertstar.com/news/180583/the-apotheosis-of-donald-j-trump/ (retrieved 25/09/2021) (I should add that the writer of the article is NOT a supporter of such a notion or perception).



SUPERCILIOUS (Jo)

If someone is ‘supercilious’, they are disdainful or contemptuous in a condescending manner, exuding a real self-sense of superiority. Amusingly, the word comes from the Latin for ‘eyebrow’, supercilium. In its plural Latin form, it is an architectural term supercilia for the section above a cornice. The connection there is easily visible. But how do we get to the meaning of the English adjective? Well, its original Latin noun could also mean ‘pride’, ‘arrogance’. Possibly the connection is the condescending look of disapproval in the raised eyebrow. Cicero, speaking against Piso, says he did not fear his ‘supercilium’, literally eyebrow, but surely referring to a disdainful look that Piso has fired in his direction (20). Cicero is punning, a fondness I share with my favourite orator.



CELERITY (Neil, my husband): And no, it does not refer to the state of being a vegetable that goes in Waldorf salad. It means speed and it is what the ‘c’ in:


(E = mc2) where c = speed of light


This was my husband’s reason for wanting to include it. You don’t need to be Einstein to work that out…oh, hang on…


‘celerity’ means speed and it ultimately comes from the Latin adjective ‘celer’ (quick, swift, speedy) and the cognate noun ‘celeritas’ (speed). And, if you speed up, you acCELERate (see also Latin verb ‘adcelero’).



And lastly, a silly bit of trivia based on ‘celerity’ sounding a bit like ‘celery’. Identify the following quotation:


‘NO! No cheese. It’s celery, apples, walnuts, grapes…in MAYONNAISE!’

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