More Greekish Fun

A couple of Greeky words I’ve learnt recently. All basically regurgitated OED. I don’t intend to harp on this too much, but my conscience requires me to tell you that you should really just get yourself an OED and look everything up instead of reading this.

Cataclysm
This is Greek “cataclysmos”. From kata, “down”, and clyzein, “to wash, dash like a wave”.

In English it can mean any huge downpour, but is taken especially to refer to Noah’s flood — or as I call it, the Noachian deluge. Our more modern uses are pretty obvious extensions of this.

Loosestrife
This lovely flower, ornament of our ditches, is known to the learned as lysimachion. Pliny states that oxen which are made to eat it are more willing to draw together. Hmm! Is loosestrife psychoactive? John Fletcher thought so! Take f’rinstance this from his 1610 Faithful Shepherdess: “Yellow Lecimachus, to giue sweete rest To the faint Shepheard.” Let a thousand flowers bloom, that’s what I say!

The lysi, to dissolve or “loose”, is familiar to us from many words, such as glycolysis and lysosome. They don’t call him lysosome “’cause he runs so fast”, despite what you may have heard. And who doesn’t recognize mach as Greekish “strife”?

Pliny also alleges that loosestrife was “discovered” by one Lysimachus, and hence the name. Sounds a little pat to me, but OED seems to credit it…

20 Responses to “More Greekish Fun”

  1. ezra Says:

    How bout the Noachian diluvial catastrophe? Not as terse but has an interesting rhythm.

    For the matter what do you call that metrical foot: u / u u? And maybe someone can answer my longstanding question of what actually constitutes a foot. It’s not the two-syllables, since many feet are three; and it’s not the single stress, because / / is a traditional foot. Is this another case of extreme and unremonstrable logical laxity in humanities scholarship? Or is there some principle behind it?

  2. Desultor Says:

    I’m not sure whether u-uu would have a name of its own, exactly. I don’t
    see anything corresponding to that in the prosody section of my grammar. But
    if we write it out

    Noachian diluvial catastrophe
    u- uu u – uu u – u u

    we can kind of see a foot like -uuu in the middle there. This is apparently
    known as the paeon primus, one of the quinary or Hemiolic meters. It’s called
    quinary because there are five “morae”, where a mora is the unit of time it
    takes to say a short syllable, more or less. (as you know, that’s how the classical
    meters do it: quantity not stress) A short syllable constitutes a single
    mora, and a long syllable is two, so altogether there’s five in our paeon
    primus.

    I am definitely just blowing smoke out of my ass here, and have no idea how anybody would ever have used this foot, but perhaps we’d want this to be part of a longer line: let’s presumably incorrectly but indubitably glamourously call it a primal paeonic tetrameter. If I may be allowed to taste some Poe:

    Somebody’s Noachian diluvial catastrophe discomforts me, G!
    – u u u- uu u – uu u – u u u – u u u

    Altogether, this shit is wicked complicated, and really there’s only two meters I
    have learnt anything about: elegaic couplets and dactylic hexameters. When I look at Horace, I’m totally
    baffled by what he’s doing with meter. He uses some weird, complicated Greek
    voodoo schemes, best as I can tell.

    So, is there some principle behind it all? Dunno! The Greeks probably had some clever mathematical thoughts about all this, but when it came to poetry, all the Romans ever did was bite off them.

  3. ezra Says:

    Man, all them Romans ever did at all was bite off other folks.

    Wasn’t it Aristotle who said,

    Caesar was a hero to most
    But he never meant shit to me you see
    Straight up racist that sucker was
    Mean and he bust us
    Mother fuck him and Augustus
    You gotta fight the powers that be.

  4. Desultor Says:

    Pseudo-Aristotle might have bit that off Aristotle?

    But I believe the original line in Aristotle (Timor Orbis Nigri I.87) actually refers to Orpheus, the “Elvis of the classical world”.

  5. desultor Says:

    Actually, purple loosestrife, of which I must have been thinking here, is Lythrum salicaria, in the Lythraceae. The Lysimachia loosestrifes, which are in the Primulaceae, are yellow as far as I’ve seen. Like Fletcher says.

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