Daily Archives: March 17, 2009


A lyrical word, its legend an elegant sigh for one elevated to the Elysian Fields. Its origins are pure Greek, calling forth an elegy, a poetic threnody (though W.S. Gilbert may have thought it a fit verse form for enumerating the crimes of Heliogabalus). Its fluid beginning – begging in print to be the nose and eyes of one sublimely bereaved – tilts the back half away from available less-pleasant echoes. In the standard British pronunciation, with its stress on the gi and its [aI] diphthong, we get the heart of giant, angina, gyre, that wild i that tenses the tongue from yawn to constriction and is in so many countries a wail of mourning or distress – but this word’s object distills the mourning into poetry. The more American version makes the last three syllables a dactyl, the foot of the elegiac verse; the central two vowels are [i], as lee and gee (like weejee?), and the ending ac risks a sound of yak, but the poetic distillation flavours this with Cognac and Armagnac – though a sip when crossing the Lethe, river of forgetfulness, may bring back amnesiac, the necessary preparative for metempsychosis. Weep no more for your past life; it is simply not there, like the missing foot in the second verse of an elegiac couplet.