lacustrine

What a delight to live in a lovely lacustrine location, to scud across a glinting harbour and land on an island as though leaping from lily pad to lily pad, to look at leaves in lagoons and reflections in ponds…

Certainly, instead of lacustrine (or lacustrian or lacustral, both less-common synonyms, and all three said with the stress on the cus), we could just say lake attributively. But while lake comes from the same lacus as lacustrine, it lacks a little something. A couple of syllables, yes, but also the sense of belonging, of inhabitation. 

A lake house is a house at a lake, but a lacustrine house, should you wish to call one that, is one that is somehow part of the lake, involved in its ecosystem. A lacustrine plant is a member of the polis of the lake – or, perhaps, of the lagoon. (A lagoon is a lake-like bit of the sea – or, as we use it in Toronto by the islands, a sub-lake of a lake – between the mainland and the vast open water, set apart by some earthy barrier, literally a lacuna, since lagoon is lacuna in English country clothing, by way of Italy and France. And lacuna is also from lacus, so a lily in a lagoon is literally lacustrine.)

There are lacustrine plants, lacustrine animals, lacustrine layers of sediment. All are not just on or in or under the lake, like cars on a road or trains in a tunnel; they are members of the family that is the lake. A large city on a lake, on the other hand – and that’s “on” as in “on the edge of” rather than “floating on” – often tries to keep itself separate from the lake, to keep the lake as an ornament like a lawn, to be looked at and to increase property values but not to be a member of. But if we’re honest, if we reflect on the subject, we can’t live without it; we cycle our water from it and back into it, our weather is affected by it, and we – at least some of us – are bodily into it and out of it often enough. Life is at least a little different when you are of a lake, when you are not just a lake city but a lacustrine one.

surf

We went to the beach yesterday, Aina and I, and it was windy. As the swell of the water came to the shallows, waves peaked and curled and crashed, one after another, making the constant timeless noise of whitening water: surf, surf, surf, surf.

And nearby, the wind blew through the trees, and they also soughed, and as it swept the sands they sighed, but those could scarce be heard above the thrash and splash and roar of the water. Even the chatter of the few people on the beach barely crested the white noise of the wave wash.

And this was only on the shore of a great lake. Much larger waves can come in when you are on the ocean’s edge, the last lap of the vast and deep sea, spraying salt and plankton. The ocean waves are large enough that you can ride them on boards, if you’re able. The ones on Lake Ontario occasionally get to a size that allows that, but it’s never quite the same – and there’s no salt. But, like the waves of the lake, the ocean waves make the sound of liquid chaos as they roll at the shore: surf, surf, surf, surf.

Am I meaning to say that the word surf comes from the sound of surf? I do not know that for sure. But it may. It’s thought to be related, one way or another, to suff, a long-derelict which meant the same thing, and perhaps to sough. The shift from suff to surf, if it occurred, happened (with overlap) in the 1600s. And you may think that suff and surf sound almost the same in the English of England, but the habit of dropping “r” after vowels was not common at the time; it swept through the London area a full century later. 

So when Englishman Daniel Defoe, in 1719, wrote of “the Surf of the Sea” in Robinson Crusoe, he was saying “surf” the same way as American Herman Melville, in 1851, writing of “a sullen white surf”: with the curl of the “r,” the tongue rearing and rolling in the mouth like a wave making for shore. Thus, the word makes a gesture iconic of what it names: first the breaking “s”; then the sustained rolling “r”; finally the flat forward wash “f.” It may not be exactly how it came about, but it fits.

After an hour or so of watching the waves from the beach, Aina finally went in and played in the surf, letting it splash and thrash her. Few others had the nerve. No one was out on boards. And I preferred to stay dry and watch. We each have our forms of entertainment. But few things are as captivating and meditative as waves rolling in.

Book sniffing note: André Kertész: Paris, Autumn 1963

Books – especially books that are not filled with trains of words meant to be ridden from end to end – can be like visiting a museum or gallery. You will find a route through, but it can be any of many routes. You can spend a long or short time. You can pause in some places, hurry past others. You can swim in them, letting it all flow past you as though you are a fish in an aquarium. And you can simply enter and let the smell tell you that you are where art is.

Yes, the smell. Museums and galleries have smells, some stronger than others. The gradual decay of paint, the aging of paper, the exhalations of exalted and exhausted visitors, the wandering aromas of the café in the basement. You could put me to sleep, blindfold me, and awaken me in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and I would say “Ah! The MFA! It’s been years since I was last here.” And books – art books in particular – are like that too.

Art books use different paper, often glossy paper with a clay content, and they use different amounts and kinds of ink, and they come from different printing plants. Opening an art book can be to your nose like revving an expensive car is to your ears: Yes, you are here, this is going to happen.

I have various art books. They don’t all smell the same, but most of them smell like art books, some more pointedly than others. I have just sat down with a not-too-thick clothbound dust-jacketed volume of one of my favourite photographers: André Kertész: Paris, Autumn 1963, printed by Flammarion. The photographs are what it says on the cover, pictures of people in a city at a time, captured by master of the camera. There is an essay at the start about the assembly and production of the book; it’s so interesting, I actually read it. But before I get to word one, before I can examine in detail the scenes in black ink and white paper, I open this book and my nose knows.

It knows that smell of a mixture of tangy ink, just a few shades off from oil paint in a gallery, and paper such as filled certain books languishing in a small-town library I visited when I was young, or lurking in the stacks of my university’s library in my first year, waiting for me to pull them off the shelf and open them and feel like a scholar. There are overtones of the fetid mushy smell of pulp mills in small mountain forestry towns, but only in the background, like wet newspaper you pass on a damp sidewalk. This pulp has been refined, pressed, dried, and educated. This is a smell of paper with glasses on and one eyebrow half raised. 

But with the ink, that arty ink in its arrangements, it is the smell of an old book of photographs, raising a beckoning finger, asking me to come and sit down on the floor of the stacks gazing at a page that has no words, bidding me bide a while looking at soft old images of people long since buried but here still young and alive. It is a smell of life that has stopped and flattened itself against a page like a shadow of a cat awaiting the passing of peril, and it will not move while death walks the earth. 

Come, come, sit down, stop, stay. Look at us, look at this, let the words end so that the world does not end. This is how life was once, when the world was black and white. And you have smelled it before, this smell that stalks galleries and art stores and the halls of your parents’ rich friends’ houses, and you know that you can come and abide with it, this autumn petrichor breathed through the open window of a paint-stained garret, this aroma that so often shades into coffee or wine, and then you can stand up and put it back on the shelf and return to the world of colour and movement and the odor of things that change.

chichi

At long last, we are able to meet with friends in person again – preferably at the patio of some restaurant, pub, bar, club, beer hall, coffee shop, or juke joint. I arranged to meet Maury at the back-lot beer garden of one of my local favourites, C’est What. 

Maury had said that Narcissa would be joining us, but as we received our first pints of local microbrews, she had yet to arrive. “Perhaps she went to the Front Street patio,” I said.

“Quite possible,” Maury said. “I’ll text and see.” He typed in his phone to let her know she should come down Farquhars Lane to The Esplanade. It vibed in reply almost immediately. He looked at it and arched an eyebrow so high I thought he might sprain his face.

“Is she defiant?” I said.

“I think perhaps she accidentally went to the French place next door,” he said. He held up his phone to show me a message. It read, “Just as well. Too sheeshy here. Oh la la!”

“Too… sheeshy,” I said. “Do you think she’s pulling your leg?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” he said. “I’m starting to walk with a limp.”

“I admit,” I said, “the first time I saw chi-chi, spelled with a hyphen, I thought it was pronounced ‘chai-chai’. But I was young. And I didn’t hear it before reading it, but if I had, I might have thought it was spelled that way too.” I gestured at the phone.

“I suppose a person who learned Italian first might think it’s said ‘ki-ki’,” Maury observed. “And a Spanish speaker… well, a Spanish speaker would have a different meaning for chichi.” (If you don’t know what the Spanish term chichi means, I leave it to you to look it up, but if you don’t like vulgar anatomical references, you would do better not to.)

“I think,” I said, “the French origin of the term may have had that pronunciation too, from a root tchitch- referring to smallness.” I wasn’t going to pull out my phone on the spot to look it up – I’m not Daryl – but I got that from the Trésor de la langue française. Other sources, such as Oxford and Wiktionary, go with a likely derivation from chiche, in turn from Latin ciccum, referring to a trifle, bagatelle, or worthless little thing. (Neither is related to chic.) Both French and English have used the word in senses relating to frills, frippery, and showiness. But before I could continue the conversation, a loud pair of glasses and a glittery pair of lips entered the beer garden, followed by the rest of Narcissa.

“You found us,” Maury said. Obvious things often make good conversation starters.

Narcissa smooched Maury on each cheek and then said, “I’m glad this is the place, even though it’s not so scenic.”

“I take it chichi is not a positively toned word for you?” I said.

Chichi as in the French word – what that other place probably wanted to be – is good with me,” she said, settling into a chair. “But I looked around and said, ‘Sheesh.’ Hence the wordplay.”

“Matching it, perhaps ironically, to the French usage,” Maury said. In French, chichi has a tone of excess, artifice, or vulgarity that is not always retained in the English.

Narcissa raised a finger and then pointed to Maury, indicating that he was spot on. “Just like another French thing that we in English use for approbation but the French use to express surprise, dismay, or sympathy. It was what I said when I thought that place was your favourite.”

Maury and I looked at each other and nodded and smiled with appreciation. Once again, Narcissa knew exactly what she was writing. Recalling the last time – long ago – I had dined at the French place, I shook my head slowly: “Oh là là!”

tide

In the Bay of Fundy, they have a sand sculpture competition. You may have heard of the tide in the Bay of Fundy: the water level changes by up to 15 metres (50 feet). It’s quite impressive – boats go from floating at a dock to resting on their keels well below, or vice versa. If you start building a sand sculpture there when the tide is out, you have no more than six hours before the tide will come in. You don’t want to be there at the time, and your sculpture is likely to face a sea-change once the tide floods it. 

Time and tide wait for no one, as the saying goes. In fact, it has been said many ways by many people: Robert Burns wrote “Nae man can tether time or tide” in 1791; William Somerville wrote “Time and tide for no man stay” in 1779; Andrew Barton wrote “time and tide waits for no one” in 1767; Robert Greene wrote “Time nor tide tarrieth no man” in 1592; and on and on, changing with the times. Time and tide is an idiomatic collocation in English, and one that, when it first arose (by the 1200s), was a deliberately redundant reduplication – almost like, say, vermin and varmints or creatures and critters – because tide was (as it rarely is now) a synonym for time.

And not just a synonym. It’s a sibling – a twin, even, though separated long ago. Back in Proto-Indo-European, there was a root that has been reconstructed as *deh₂y- having to do with sharing or dividing. It divided (we believe) into a few derived forms, including *déh₂itis, a noun meaning ‘period of time’, which descended to Proto-Germanic tīdiz, and *déh₂i-mō, which descended to Proto-Germanic tīmô (incidentally, cognate with Greek δαίμων, daemon). 

You can guess how tīmô developed: it became our time and several similar words in Scandinavian languages (such as Icelandic tími). It is not, by the way, related to Latin tempus ‘time’, which came from a root meaning ‘stretch’ or one meaning ‘cut’ (we’re not sure which). 

As for tīdiz, it became tide and a whole bunch of words meaning ‘time’ in other Germanic languages: Dutch tijd, for instance, Icelandic tíð, German zeit – you can see the sea-changes: the final consonant could become devoiced (as in German or Dutch – the d in tijd is said like “t”) or fricated (as in Icelandic, where ð represents the same sound as we make at the start of this); the first consonant could be affricated (as in German, where z is said like “ts”).

OK, but how did it go from ‘time’ to, well, ‘tide’ in sense? First it was used to refer to a particular time of day or year – a recurring time, as we still sometimes see or hear in Christmastide or Eastertide, or eventide or noontide. Some other Germanic languages started using a sibling form to refer to what English called the ebb and flood of the sea, and this usage of tide caught on in English in the 1300s. And most of the other uses fell off over time – or, I should say, time prevailed over them.

But there are still a few uses that relate more to time generally, or to opportune or unavoidable moments, or to occurrences. And there are words derived from tide. There’s betide, meaning ‘happen to’, as in woe betide. There’s tidings, which means ‘news’, as in things that have happened at the time. And there’s one quite popular derived form that showed up first in the 1300s meaning ‘timely’, then came to mean ‘opportune’ or ‘in good condition’, and gradually broadened in usage to be just a synonym for ‘orderly’. The word is not tidely, as you might expect by analogy with timely; no, that would be too tidy. Or, should I say, it would not be tidy enough – for the word is tidy.

Well. The tide might seem tidy, since it washes things away, but it’s hard to say – from the perspective of a sand sculptor, for instance – that it makes them more orderly. And when it ebbs, it often leaves a mess behind. Just like the tides of language change.

pissy-lit

These people who write ranting articles – what’s with them, right? Like complaining about people who have a whole “birthday week” or eat avocado toast or put up their Hallowe’en decorations early or leave their Christmas trees up late or other bits of harmless joy. Where do these scribblers get off being so pissy? If I want to steal extra moments of glee in a glowering world, who are they to tell me not to?

Sure, pissy-lit (literature that’s defined by being pissy) is fun to read, in its way – venting at the inanity of some self-important or overly enthusiastic or weirdly childish or frankly ostentatious or simply socially ungrammatical practice. They’re great clickbait. Admittedly, for many people they’re what’s called a hate-read, but a clickthrough is a clickthrough whether for or against, just as a book that’s bought to be burned is bought all the same. (And do you really hate reading it? Why are you reading it, then?)

Still, for all their curb appeal, their eye-catching emotional garishness, even if you enjoy them, pissy-lit pieces are not the same kind of positive contribution that some other articles are. They’re the literary equivalent of weeds. Yes, in one way a weed is an over-successful and underappreciated plant, but if you have it in mind to grow other plants that might bring different benefits, weeds can choke them out. Likewise, if you read pissy articles, you’re just engendering further pissiness. 

Consider the dandelion. It’s a hardy plant, very successful, and, if we’re being honest, pretty and useful. You can have it in salads. You can have wine made of it. You can boil the leaves to make a tonic. But if you have dandelions on your lawn, one thing you soon can’t have without a lot of work (and poison) is much of anything other than dandelions on your lawn. And maybe you don’t want just dandelions. What do they do for you, anyway? What does consuming dandelion tonic do for your health?

The French name for dandelions is a clue to that. I don’t mean dent-de-lion, ‘lion’s tooth’, the origin of English dandelion (based on the shape of the leaves, not the flowers). I mean what they’re commonly called: pissenlit. If you know French, you know what pisse-en-lit means: ‘piss in bed’. They got the name not because they’re yellow, but because they’re diuretics. Drink the tonic of pissenlit before bedtime and you might well wet the bed – as was known in France by the 1500s (the first citation in Littré).

So there is my paronomastic simile. Pissy-lit is like a pissenlit – pissiness begets pissiness. And why are the authors of pissy-lit so peeved about these social practices, anyway? The answer is usually obvious when you read the articles, and it’s just the same as with people who rail against certain words or turns of phrase: they don’t like the people they envision as doing them, people who they see as inferiors trying to claim some kind of superiority, or trying by implication to force them to value something in a way that would seem childishly weak to them.

But am I not just being pissy about pissiness? Raining on the parade of those who like raining on parades? Hmm, is asking someone not to be mean just as mean as being mean? The basic mathematical principle that subtracting a negative equals adding a positive is good here as in so many social things. And sure, venting can be good, but finding ways to like things you had previously hated is even better – trust me, I’ve done it many times, and it’s a winner, because you have one more thing you like, and wouldn’t you rather be surrounded by things you like than by things you hate?

You may object that I am being unkind to dandelions, which can have many benefits if we choose to avail ourselves of them. And perhaps, for the sake of a bon mot, I am. But on the other hand, if I said I thought pissy-lit was dandy, I’d be lyin’. Those who live by urination ultimately meet their ruination.

Crossword solution

OK, for those of you who have done the crossword or just want to see what the answers are, the solution is on my Patreon site at https://www.patreon.com/posts/55659653. I’m not putting it up here so there’s no risk of an inadvertent spoiler.

If you would like an explanation of any of the clues, just ask! And let me know if you’d like to see more cryptic crosswords or other word puzzles along with my word tastings.

A cryptic crossword

I think cryptic crosswords are fun. If you’re not familiar with them, the way it goes is that each word is described two ways – once by meaning and once by some aspect of its form (usually spelling or sound) – but it’s done in a clever and coy way. An example would be “Booze works heartlessly in writer’s oeuvre (5)” as a clue for BOOKS: if you take BOOZE WORKS and remove the middle of it (ZE WOR) – in other words, if you have it heartlessly – you get BOOKS, and that’s also described as a writer’s oeuvre.

Anyway, here’s a small one. I made it available for my Patreon patrons early yesterday as a bonus for their paying something ($1, $2, or $5 a month) for all my articles that the rest of you get for free. I’ll make the solution available tomorrow on Patreon… but it won’t be visible to non-patrons until a bit later.

ACROSS

A1 Eclipses? Take them to the beach! (9)

A3 Wise raptor or incomplete fowl? (3)

E3 Strum weirdly… and “drang!” (5)

A5 Steals eel unexpectedly, dies (9)

A7 Alive, busy, jumping—a nasty way to do things (9)

A9 Allows to buy preparation for physical with Olivia (4,3)

DOWN

A1 Winter comes too soon, brings deficit (9)

C1 Nothing, just French flax the back way (3)

C5 Almost erupts badly in gush (5)

E1 Draining last of fuels, engines out of order (9)

G1 Eliot’s April in a wild Celt’s rule (9)

I1 Sounds all at once torpid (7)

Want to get things like this crossword and its solutions sooner, or just feel good about paying a bit for what you get on Sesquiotica? Go to https://www.patreon.com/sesquiotic. That’s also where you’ll get the answers to this crossword… in a couple of days.

And let me know if you’d like to see more of these!

glitz

You know glitz, of course, of glitz and glamour (or, sometimes, glam and glitz), offspring of glitzy (no, not the other way around). Glitz made its arrival in English in the 1970s (yes, really), and the first quote the Oxford English Dictionary has for glitzy is from The New York Times in 1966: “Advertising will stress that Devil Shake is ‘glitzy’. This claim will be hard to deny, at least until someone defines the word.” 

I’m sure you could define glitz or glitzy if you had to… right? But you won’t need to, because it sounds and looks exactly like it should to mean what it means. It has the gl- that so often shows up on words to do with light or shininess, and in particular it has the gli- of glimmer, glint, glisten, glister, and glitter. Along with that, it has the -itz of blitz, fritz, Ritz, and spritz – which sounds exactly like the -its of so many words (splits, hits, bits), but we know that that z is there, with its lightning look and its relative rarity. Between the gli- and the -itz, its meaning shines out, sparkles, flashes… perhaps even a bit too much.

Some people might guess that glitzy was formed from, say, glitter and Ritzy. It wasn’t, but it’s not surprising they would think so. Other people, looking at form, tone, and context, would guess we got it from Yiddish, and they’re probably right. And Yiddish in its turn got it from German (the other possible language English got it from): in German, glitzern means ‘glitter’ (and is related to some of those other gli- words).

But tell me, now, is glitz good? Is it great to be glitzy, or is it somehow tawdry, meretricious, trite, excessive, gaudy, garish?

Or is it both: overdone and wonderful? Or does it depend on what you like?

Glitz can refer to the sights of a fairground midway at night, sure, and similar sparkly things. But if you look at songs that use glitz – and there are quite a lot of them – or most other contexts of us, it’s almost always associated with show business, the bright lights of Broadway and Hollywood, the hyperreality of the world of stage and screen, even in more figurative senses: shiny glamorous people. And the implication is always that it’s not real at the core: it’s all a Fabergé eggshell, a gilded cage with Swarovski crystals on the bars. A wild ride, flashy and trashy, at the heart of it signifying nothing.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s why you go see these things – and for some of us, it’s why we go perform in them: to create and experience something special and exciting and far flashier than the ordinary. The mistake is just thinking that it’s real all the way down, and durable. You can’t have Champagne as your only beverage, no matter how much of a glamourpuss you are.

What is glitz? What gives it that blitz, that glint? What makes a spangle sparkle, a sequin scintillate, a crystal coruscate? Four things: a source of light, something capable of reflecting that light, eyes to see the light, and a situation in which the eyes will see the reflection in just the right way. It’s just like a word such as glitz: we have the sounds, the letters to represent them, a person to read the letters, and a language usage context in which that sound and spelling shines forth as the meaning. Take away any of those and it falls flat.

So enjoy it while you get it. And if it’s not what you want, don’t worry – it won’t last. Glitz flits to and from the spots it fits.

anthophilia

As I think you know, I love words. Like many people, I also love flowers. And you may infer from various word tastings I’ve done that I love words for flowers. So it would follow, then, that I am very good at naming flowers, right?

Nah. I’m terrible at it. Odds of my successfully naming a flower on sight are very low. But what does it matter? They don’t come when you call them.

Don’t I need to know the names of flowers when buying them? I guess so. When I’m buying cut flowers, they all have the same name, and yet it always seems to work, because the name is “those ones.” And when I’m buying flowers to grow at home…

…ha ha, trick question. I have never bought flowers to grow at home. I have some plants, sure, of the kind I’m unlikely to kill while growing them inside a high-rise apartment (without a balcony). Flowers are more daunting to me.

And yet, as I said above, I love flowers. I grew up in a house filled with flowers and other plants. My mother has one of the greenest thumbs you could ask for. I’m sure she knows the names of a great many flowers, since that makes it much easier to buy them and to find information on caring for them. For my part, I have taken pictures of them, such as the photos I’ve included here, all of which I took as a teenager in 1985 (with my dad’s Nikon F2 – but that’s another story). I have many more on my Flickr.

Don’t I need to know their names if I’m taking pictures of them? Nah, not unless I’m doing it for documentary purposes. A picture is not worth a thousand words, you know. A picture is not worth words and words are not worth pictures. There is no exchange rate. You may as well try to convert a novel to a symphony, or a sculpture to a perfume. One can inspire the other, yes, but one can never contain or match the other. And it’s perfectly possible to enjoy a visual experience without getting words tangled up in it. Can you imagine going up to a bellflower and saying, “OK, but what’s it about?”

But I do have a word for you, a word related to flowers. It’s a word for a gift my mother gave to me: anthophilia.

Is anthophilia a kind of flower? No. Does it have to do with ants? N— well, I suppose if they like flowers it does. You may recognize the -philia part, which denotes loving (or being attracted to, as in hydrophilia). It’s from a Classical Greek root. So is antho-, which comes from ἄνθος, ‘flower’ (and yes, you see it in chrysanthemum and anthurium). 

So anthophilia means ‘love of flowers’. A person who loves flowers may be said to be anthophilous or to be an anthophile (both of which terms are, I should say, most often applied to insects, though they probably don’t know or care).

My mother, a first-rate anthophile, still has the gift of growing beautiful flowers, a gift that gives to others who get to see the results. The gift of anthophilia she gave me has flowered into a lifelong love for flowers – not for growing them or analyzing them, but just for enjoying them. (My wife also enjoys them, which makes me happy.) 

But while I am not a flower gardener, I am a word gardener, so the gift I can give back to my mother is a garden or bouquet of words, and photos. And since today is her 80th birthday, I have put together today’s word tasting for her. Happy birthday, Mom!