Tag Archives: Word Wednesday

Acedia

My, but I haven’t written in such a long time. Bubo and I left for Paris earlier this month, wanting a change of pace and a change of palette. Upon my return, I caught a massive head cold, Bubo managed to cover herself in bright orange paint, and Mordecai just yesterday set the entire kitchen on fire whilst attempting to make mushrooms flambé.

Perhaps it is the post-vacation blues. Perhaps it is the prospect of gutting my kitchen. Perhaps it is living with the crankiest owl this side of the the Great Lakes. Perhaps it is my end-of-summer moodiness kicking in, but I am struggling to find my joie de vie. It appears I have a case of acedia.

Acedia is a noun that means spiritual torpor; apathy; ennui. Often defined as a soul-wearying indifference, it must be mentioned that acedia is not willful sloth or indolence, less so “sin,” but a spiritual lethargy or indifference, a turpitude that affects the well-intentioned. (Thank you Hermitary.com.)

The word originates from the Late Latin acēdia in turn from the Greek akēdeia meaning indifference. (This, in turn, can be traced back to the Greek a- + kēdos  meaning care, grief.)

Interesting to note, acedia was first classified as a problem among monks and other ascetics who maintained a solitary life. Their inability to perform daily tasks was distinguished as different from depression due to the spiritual overtones of their lives and work, and thus, their ennui.

Some claim that acedia can be overcome by renewing the sufferer’s faith in the spiritual or in life. How to do that, you ask? I suppose that is the big question.

I’m going to attempt this seemingly monumental task by forcing Mordecai to clean up his own mess (he is a bit of a culinary snob, so a functioning kitchen is a must for him) and by sipping summer cocktails whilst reading in the garden. Bubo finagled herself some hair dye and I’m giving her full license to turn the third floor loo into a foul feather salon.

Ostensibly, either the cocktails or the acedia will keep me from caring what the result is.

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Shemozzle

The heat in Brooklyn (and much of the Eastern US) has not broken. Meteorologists are predicting some heavy thunderstorms in the area and these should bring a cold front, lowering the temperatures from the punishing 90s to the more-palatable 80s. I will tell you that this extreme heat is causing quite an uproar in the house. Many of the cryptids do not flourish in the heat, and I’ve had to move most of these creatures into the cellar and the grotto, where the temperatures are cooler. Unfortunately, I am unable to separate everyone, so the noise and the confusion coming from the cellar is quite a distraction.

Which brings me to today’s word.

Shemozzle is a noun meaning a state of chaos or confusion; a muddle; a quarrel or rumpus; an uproar.

The word might be Yiddish in origin, though Leo Rosten says in The Joys of Yiddish that shemozzle has no connections with the Yiddish language at all. Some postulate that the word was created to sound Yiddish, since words like schlimeil, schmuck, schmaltz, and schlimazel have enjoyed popularity in American English through the Yiddish-immigrant influence. (Go ahead, dears, sing the opening of the Laverne and Shirley theme song.) Still others tenuously suggest that shemozzle comes from schlimazel.

Schlimazel itself (meaning a habitual failure; a born loser) comes from slim mazel, an excellent example of Yiddish being a combination of Hebrew and German. Slim is an Old German word meaning crooked and mazel is a Hebrew word meaning luck. Therefore, slim mazel is literally crooked luck. Now, whether and how this evolved into the word shemozzle in America might be grasping at straws. Many, in fact, scoff at this association and might even call you a schmuck for believing the theory.

Whatever the origin, the shemozzel in my cellar is grating on my last, over-heated nerve which one might say is indeed schlimazel.

 

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Rantipole

And are you celebrating the Summer Solstice today? Mordecai, of course, went about his pre-solstice preparations with a reckless abandon and ended up burning down my garden shed last night.

Thankfully, my flying machine was not in it. I was taking her out for a midnight flight last night (before today’s heat wave struck) and on my way back home I noticed a ball of orange flames. Was Mordecai contrite and apologetic? Of course not. He woke early today and took to the streets with his special Solstice Mead, declaring that the Solstice is the perfect day to find “inspirational women” to keep company with. He’s trouble. One might even say that he is a rantipole.

Rantipole is a noun that means a wild, rakish, roving, sometimes quarrelsome person; a rude romping young person. It can also be used as an adjective and as a verb. It’s a versatile insult, really. And it IS an insult.

Some believe that the word is derived from the Dutch word randten meaning to talk foolishly, rave, while others believe it is actually derived from the English dialect ranty, meaning riotous;wildly excited plus poll, meaning the head. A slang dictionary from the 1700s has rantipole defined as a rude wild Boy or Girl.

Rantipole is used liberally in literature, naturally, as it’s a marvelously descriptive insult. You can find it in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

“This rantipole hero had for some time singled out the blooming Katrina for the object of his uncouth gallantries, and though his amorous toyings were something like the gentle caresses and endearments of a bear, yet it was whispered that she did not altogether discourage his hopes.”

And you can find it in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations:

“Well!” cried my sister, with a mollified glance at Mr. Pumblechook. “She might have had the politeness to send that message at first, but it’s better late than never. And what did she give young Rantipole here?”

Mordecai is an embodiment of rantipole. He is wild, uncouth, and terribly quarrelsome. I have no doubt that his Summer Solstice will be spent in a mead-soaked giddiness. I, ever the more staid brother, will be sipping lemonade whilst the dragons play in the charcoal aftermath of the garden shed. Today is hot, and – if only for a fraction of a second – the longest we will have all year.

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Skulk

Oh but it has been threatening to rain all day, hasn’t it?

There was an odd scratching in the back corner of the garden and when I went to investigate – admittedly with a too-early gin and tonic in hand – I discovered a tiny hole in the ground, a pyramid of pink feathers next to it, and the distinct impression that there were eyes watching me.

When I turned to go back into the house, I heard footsteps behind me. Whatever is in the garden will out itself in due course, no doubt, after an appropriate period of skulking about.

Skulk is a word you’re undoubtedly aware of. It is an intransitive verb meaning to move about stealthily; to lie in hiding as out of cowardice; to lurk and it is a noun meaning a congregation of foxes or thieves; one who lurks or practices evasion.

The word originates from the Middle English, and from that it is of Scandinavian origin, similar to the Norwegian word skulka – to lie in wait, lurk. The British use skulk as a synonym for malingersomeone who shirks their duty or work and most people use skulk in a negative manner. A skulker is usually up to no good.

At first thought, a skulk of foxes might call to mind fluffy, lovely creatures who are cunning but also rather witty (I’m thinking of The Fantastic Mr. Fox). But when one thinks of things from the point of view of 13th century English speakers, a skulk was a passel of vermin; thieves lurking about the hen houses to steal eggs and ruin hard farm labor.

Whatever is skulking in my garden, I can be certain it’s not a congregation of thieves – foxy or otherwise. Nothing is ever that simple here.

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