Oh no, it’s another x word. (Actually, it’s the first one beginning with x that I’ve done tasting notes on.) That opening cross-out: the letter of mystery, of the unknown; like eyes of unconscious cartoon characters, negating consciousness, as it negates whatever it is superimposed on; but also like a pucker, often standing in for a kiss, and normally having the sound of kiss… without the i. Not here, though; English doesn’t allow a stop to be followed by a fricative word initially. So here we get a [z] sound, a voiced fricative – the sound of another radical, rakish, edgy letter beloved of ad men. And after the [z]? Two [i] sounds separated by a nasal, and then a schwa and a liquid. And the tongue touches its tip three times on the same spot: the alveolar ridge. Like knocking softly three times on a door, waiting for your host to open up. This word is very close in sound to venial – and has something else in common with it, too: venial is a forgiving word that sounds too much like venal, a rather unforgiving word, and xenial might make one think first of xenophobic, likewise a word rather unfriendly in tone. But isn’t xenial related to xenophobic? Indeed it is. So xenial is “like a stranger,” no? No. Greek xenos means “guest,” not stranger. Xenial refers to the friendly relation between host and guest, personally or nationally. The person knocking on the door may be unknown, even mysterious, but you greet with a xenial kiss, not with denial and negation. Look: the e and a are like host and guest facing across a threshold, the n an open door, the i a torch carried by the a, and behind one the crossroads and the other a wall, or behind one a chair and the other a street. If the guest had been turned back, he would have lain ex – by ex we may assume “outside.” And is the role of host menial? No, it’s a joy. Let’s party!
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