chilblain

This might seem like a word for the border crossing between BC and Washington where the I-95 and 99 meet: chill to the north, Blaine to the south. Well, the chill is right, and no doubt some people, on knowing what blain means, might think it accurate as well. This is not a word we hear much anymore; we seem able, with the aid of Thinsulate, good sense and central heating, to avoid its object. Yet we still see it in literature, typically used as though everyone were familiar with it (is this a good time to mention that I had also been reading of the disease consumption for years before I realized it was tuberculosis?). Well, what do we have, then? To look at, this word is a forest of ascenders and dots – only three out of nine letters are x-height. Not a descender in the bunch, though. Perhaps, in conjunction with chill, we will see this as iconic of horripilation. And the components of this word? It might lead your eyes to child, and certainly children, with their lesser good sense, are perhaps more likely to get chilblains. The sound carries a small echo of complain, and that’s not inappropriate. But a blain – a word by itself, though good luck trying to find it in use anywhere – is a swelling or sore. Its roots go right back to Teutonic. As do those of chill, which, this may be a good time to say, was used as the word to refer to cold until the 14th century, when it was replaced over time by cold; its noun form then fell into desuetude for two centuries until it was revived as a nominalization of the verb chill, which itself had only been converted from the noun in the 14th century… and not used all that much until two centuries later, when, it seems, the noun and verb together made quite a comeback. And isn’t that just what you had always wanted, for chill to make a comeback? Well, it did. Now mind you don’t get chilblains.

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