Live & Learn - Issue #2 (May 4, 2023)


I. Man Has Absinthe at Unlikely Event, Removes Item from Bucket List

It was one of those events attended out of obligation. A fundraiser. My wife was involved in running the thing, so there was no way I was getting out of it. To be fair, though, I didn’t have any plans so it wasn’t keeping me from doing anything. So, I shut up and played along. You know what, I was glad I did, because I got to cross an item off my bucket list. Admittedly, it was a smaller item and one of the least important but it was an item nonetheless. I got to try absinthe.

If you’re unfamiliar, absinthe is “a green or sometimes colorless distilled liquor with high alcoholic content that is flavored with wormwood (sometimes), anise, and other aromatic herbs, such as fennel. (Thank you Merriam Webster).  

And what the fuck is wormwood, you might be asking? Well, according to the same source, it’s “a European plant (Artemisia absinthium) that has silvery silky-haired leaves and drooping yellow flower heads and yields a bitter dark green oil used in absinthe.”


For the record, I’m not a huge drinker. I have my favorite brands of beer and I’ve been known to enjoy a glass of scotch or bourbon every now and then, but I don’t drink that much week to week. I maybe have an average of three to five drinks a month (slightly more if it’s around the holidays and I’m going to parties). Nevertheless, I’ve wanted to try absinthe because of the mystic surrounding it. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, it was outlawed at point because it was thought to be hallucinogenic. As such, it became associated with the drug and/or counterculture. * In recent years, however, that reputation has begun to erode and now it’s just another alcoholic beverage.


Unfortunately, I didn’t care for it, or maybe I needed to try a different brand with all the accessories I’ve been led to believe one should have with it (i.e., the sugar cube, the fancy contraption you put the sugar cube on, the swanky glass, mist blowing in from somewhere, etc). In the sample I had, I could really taste the anise and that’s a flavor I typically enjoy.


Okay, so now that I’ve recounted that experience, the other thing to investigate here is the phrase bucket list (i.e., a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying). From where does it arise? I’ve scoured the books in the Butter Lamb Reference Library’s holdings and couldn’t find anything. (I’ll keep looking ….)  So far, the best explanation I’ve come up with is that it must be associated with the euphemism for death, “kick the bucket.”


I’ll have more to say about this in the future, I’m sure.


* To see what I mean, type absinthe into your favorite search engine and look at the images that come up.


II. A Quick Bit of BLRL News:


Before I forget, I want to let you know that the PDF of The Butter Lamb News Issue # 4 is now available. Check it out here!


Also, if you haven’t seen our other new feature—the challenging word of the week—check out our first three installments here, here, and here.


III. New Words & Phrases (Or Words and Phrases New to Me):


Pelé Now Means Exceptional


Okay, I know who Pelé is, so the word, which is also his nickname, is not exactly new to me. Nevertheless, in a fantastic example of how language evolves, National Public Radio recently discussed how this moniker for one of soccer's greatest players has now, thanks to The Michaelis Dictionary, one of Brazil's most popular, become a synonym for being the best at something.

Pelé died in 2022 at the age of 82. Since then, the article explains, “a Brazilian charity established to further Pelé's legacy had been leading the campaign to get the term added to the dictionary. With help from the sports channel SporTV and Pelé's former team, Santos, the Pelé Foundation gathered more than 125,000 petition signatures to push for the formal entry.” Clearly, that campaign was successful … and now I think I’m going to cry.


Dramaturgically. It’s a Word!


I don't watch the show Succession. That might make me some sort of philistine, but … whatever. Anyway, apparently, one of the actors in that show, Jeremy Strong, recently used the word dramaturgically in an interview and people on the Internet went nuts, or so Yahoo News tells me.

According to this article, “fans found his rather erudite word choice amusing, while others were left bewildered, wondering if it was a real word.” Well, a few days later, the hip folks at Merriam Webster took to their Twitter account to tell the world (or at least the part of it that pays attention to this sort of nonsense … which apparently includes me because I’m writing this) that, yes Virginia, dramaturgically is a word.


I’m gonna be honest, I haven’t heard that word, which is why I’ve decided to include it here. That’s why this newsletter is called Live and Learn.


The “Twilight Zone” in the Ocean


Imagine an ocean suffering negative effects from climate change.... This just in, the twilight zone in Earth’s ocean is ... wait, you didn’t know the ocean had a twilight zone? Me neither. First, I thought the twilight zone was a television show and, second, I imagine the reception under water is just awful. But I kid the ocean, seriously.... You may not be familiar with the marine “twilight zone” because that’s not it’s real name. The real name for this part of the ocean “located between 656 feet and 3,280 feet (200 meters to 1,000 meters) below the surface” is the mesopelagic zone (now you see why folks have begun using twilight zone), and it's “home to billions of metric tons of organic matter and some of Earth's most stunning biodiversity, despite being beyond the reach of sunlight.”

The term mesopelagic, in case you’re wondering, comes from meso-, a combining form meaning middle, and pelagic, a biological term that the Penguin Dictionary of Biology defines as, “Inhabiting the mass of water of lake or sea, in contrast to the lake or sea bottom.”


Anyway, according to new research, “the climate crisis could reduce life in the twilight zone between 20% and 40% by the end of the century.” You may not care, but you should. After all, as the saying goes, “When the ocean dies, we die.”

You’ve Been Ghosted, but Have You Been “Zombied”?


Surely, you’re familiar with the term ghosted, which refers to a person who suddenly ignores you and acts like you don’t exist (either in person or online) after you’ve had several conversations or even some sort of relationship with them. We’ll, courtesy of this article from Fox5 New York, I now know that a person can also be zombied, which is the name for what happens when the person who ghosted you suddenly comes back into your life.

I know … I’m having a hard time keeping up with all these stupid relationship terms too.

Like, Literally Intensifying the Language


Above, I mentioned how the inclusion of Pelé in the Michaelis Dictionary was a nice example of how language evolves. Well, according to this article from public radio station WBUR, so is the word literally. Yeah, I know, literally, like, literally isn’t a new word. Yet, according to University of Nevada, Reno linguist Valerie Fridland, the way we’re using it is new.

“Literally is now used as an intensifier, [it is a] word like completely or horribly that [amplifies] what someone is trying to say,” she said.


Okay, I can accept that. But why does the use of literally as an intensifier literally drive people crazy? The answer, Fridland says, is that we’re witnessing (or maybe hearing) the language change before our ears—and we’re not comfortable with it yet.


The word very, for example, meant true or actual in old English but has since been semantically bleached, or removed from its original meaning,” she said. “We don't remember when that happened. So [very] doesn't bother us. Literally is still in the process of doing that. And that's why it bothers us.


What are your thoughts on literally? Like, I literally want to know. Drop me a line and vent your spleen. 


IV. Art of the Dictionary

Yeah, dictionaries are all about words and meanings and etymologies and synonyms, but believe me when I say that some of the books in the Butter Lamb Reference Library contain some wonderful art. This section of Live & Learn aims to highlight some of it, and spread the idea that dictionaries and references can be treasure-troves of wonderful graphics and images too.

As yet another case in point, I submit to you the following artistic rendering of a whale from A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot (1958).



According to this text, the whale is symbolic of the world, the body and the grave and [is] regarded as an essential symbol of containing (and concealing). [In more recent times,] however, the whale seems to have acquired more independence as a symbolic equivalent of … the area of intersection of the circles of heaven and earth, comprising and embracing the opposites of existence.



V. From the BLRL Collection:


A Blake Dictionary: The Ideas and Symbols of William Blake

In issue #3 of The Butter Lamb News, I wrote about the A Dictionary of Literary Symbols, which is a book that decodes the meanings of symbols used in biblical, classical, and canonical literature over from the past few centuries (e.g., think the meaning of ivy in Byron’s poetry). This Blake Dictionary does the same thing, it’s just limited to the work of writer, painter, and mystic William Blake.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Here’s an excerpt from the book’s introduction. 

The purpose of this dictionary is to make things easier for his readers by gathering together the clues scattered through his writings. These gatherings most often … shed welcome light. At other times, when the meaning has not made itself clear, I have at least laid out the material for future scholars….

As Blake saw everything in human terms, practically anything might be a symbol; but it has not been feasible to write an article on every noun, especially as many of them have little or no symbolic significance. Blake, who was a painter and a poet as well as a mystic, often used objects solely for their poetic values. "Silver," for example, may be only a color (""wash the dusk with silver," PS, To the Evening Star,'" or a sound ("silver voices"), or money ("the gold & silver of the Merchant"). It may indicate temperament ("girls of mild silver or of furious gold"). But eventually and fundamentally, as the metal of Luvah, it signifies Love. It is also convenient to remember that "gold" signifies "intelligence." Winding up the golden ball means using one's head. It is generally safe also to assume that Water is Matter, as in Noah's Flood, but the fountains of the Holy Ghost and the rivers of Eden are not. One must obey common sense. Blake's symbols are not mechanical or inflexible.


Oddly, the one thing this book is missing is pictures, either in color or in grayscale, of Blake’s artwork. Bummer.



VI. From the Archives: 


Believe it or not, I had several dictionary and word-related blogs before I settled on this one. Thus, I’ve got a bunch of writing about words and their origins just sitting there doing nothing. To prevent that work from going to waste, I’ve decided to recycle it here in under the banner of “From the Archives.” I realize you may not care about the backstory here, but I thought I’d let you know in case you’re wondering from what “archive” the following information comes.


Hypochondria and that “Gut Feeling”

Hypochondria, or the belief that you’re ill, sick, or harboring some awful disease despite any evidence that to support it, is an interesting word. On first consideration, my gut feeling was that it was in some way related to Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician and, according to the Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Religion, and Literature, and Art, “the founder of the school of a scientific art of healing.”

That, however, is not the case. As Webster’s informs us, hypochondria comes from the “Late Latin word for abdomen (pl. of Greek hypochondrion, meaning soft part of the body below the cartilage and above the navel [hypo-, under + chondros, cartilage: so called because the condition was supposed to have its seat in this region].”

The meaning of the word, as I hinted at above, is “abnormal anxiety over one’s health, often with imaginary illness and severe melancholy.” (Webster’s)

Blakiston’s Pocket Medical Dictionary gets a little more technical and requests that those looking for information about hypochondria begin by learning its proper name: hypochondriasis, which it (awesomely) defines as:

A chronic condition in which a person is morbidly concerned with his or her physical or mental health and believes himself [sic] to be suffering from a grave, usually bodily, disease often focused upon one organ, without demonstrable organic findings; this condition is traceable to some longstanding intrapsychic conflict.

Based on the way hypochondriacs are portrayed on television, they always seemed manic, and a little crazy, so I find this association between hypochondria and depression somewhat of a surprise. Apparently, it shouldn’t be, for as my etymological dictionaries reveal, the relationship has been right there from the beginning. As the Merriam Webster New Book of Word Histories notes in its entry for hypochondria:

Many ancient theories of pathogenesis, attractive though they are, have been discarded. That dire humor, black bile (or melancholy), was said to be a secretion of the spleen or kidneys and to produce a morbid state of bleak depression and with it an excessive concern with one’s health. This 'disease’ was named for the region below the breastbone in which it had its origin, the hypochondria.

And from the Dictionary of Word Origins (Ayto):

Originally, hypochondria was an anatomical term, denoting the ‘area of the abdomen beneath the ribs.’ [...] This particular part of the body was formerly supposed to be the seat of melancholy, and so in the 17th century the word came to be used for ‘low spirits, depression.’ The modern sense ‘belief of being ill’ originally belonged to the derived hypochondriasis but was transformed in the 19th century to hypochondria.

So, it seems that Blakiston, who no doubt benefited from the wisdom of the ages, was right—the hypochondriac is suffering from some “psychic conflict.”

But what happens if you dream about being sick? Does that count as hypochondria? Not exactly, says the Dream Dictionary from A to Z.

In dreams, indigestion suggests an idea or attitude that does not agree with you or that you are finding hard to stomach in waking life ... The dream may also point to actual indigestion. Alternatively, could your stomach have been protesting in your dream because it is literally crying out for nourishment, either literally or because you are feeling starved of love?

The book goes on to say that if your intestines are the source of discomfort in your dreams, you could be dreaming about something you don’t think you have the “guts” to do. Nausea in dreams may refer to a negative feeling in real life you need to address. Further, if you’re physically sick in a dream, it could mean that you need to “expel” or “get rid” of something in your life, like a job, a relationship, etc.

Now I know why I always feel sick at work.


VII. The Last Word:


In the interest of context, the following quote comes from “Dr. Johnson’s Visit,” a chapter Dictionary Days by Ilan Stavans. So far as I can tell, the chapter features what I assume to be an imagined (or maybe dreamt) visit to the author’s home by famed British lexicographer and critic Dr. Samuel Johnson. Anyway, the following quote feature’s the author’s take (not Dr. Johnson’s) on modern dictionary making.

Dictionary making might have been a dull endeavor for you, but you should see what it has become: a discipline entirely kept by bureaucrats, people without a soul. They are paid to collect words, to catalogue and systematize them. But there is little in them that sparks a fire. Dictionaries themselves have become arid, dull, and insipid. I long for a time in lexicography when the dictionary maker was also an adventurer, one ready to go to far ends of the earth for a single prefix. That is no more.

—Ilan Stavans, Dictionary Days


That's it for this issue. See you in two weeks! 

Note, if you missed issue #1, you can see it here.

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