For a long time, there was a restaurant on the outskirts of Fredonia, New York, called Aldrich’s. Their sign advertised to those who drove by on highway 60 that they were a “beef and ice cream parlor.” I ate there at least once, and I seem to recall that their beef and ice cream were both pretty good. But I guess they couldn’t handle the competition from the big boxes that sprouted like mushrooms a mile or so closer to the Thruway; they closed down in September 2007. Now the place sits there empty, unoccupied, getting just a little spookier every time I go by. Like the sort of place where a group of teens decide, on some windy October night, to break in and explore, but when they go into the kitchen and open the old walk-in freezer, they hear an otherworldly moan and they see…

Well, never mind. The fact is that the name Aldrich will forever have a strong taste of beef and ice cream for me, and the rich in it just amplifies that. And no matter how eerie, spooky, unearthly the place may ever get – no matter how eldritch – I will always have that taste of beef and ice cream, every time I see the word Aldrich – or the word eldritch. Which just goes to show how subjective word tastes can be.

Undoubtedly whatever association you have with Aldrich, if any (say, Aldrich Ames, who spied for the USSR while working for the CIA), will affect your perception of eldritch, unless you happen to see eldritch much more often than Aldrich. But other things naturally impinge as well: elder – perhaps as in the “elder gods” (such as Cthulhu, as seen in H.P. Lovecraft’s stories), or perhaps as in a church or simply as in old – and rich, and itch, and probably ditch too.

I do like how the various ascenders on this word may recall horripilation – i.e., your hair standing on end. And the whole word is focused on the tip of the tongue; the farthest back it goes in enunciation is during the /r/ – the rest is at the alveolar ridge. Nothing at the velum: you don’t want to go back there…

Whence comes this word? Old English, certainly, but the trail is misty. It seems reasonable that it comes from el “strange, other” and rice (pronounced “reach a”) “realm,” but there is a gap in the trail of evidence, and one must cross it… (don’t pay the ferryman until he gets you to the other side!)

Serve this word with spooky tales, of the sort that naturally go not only with Victorian houses but with lower-frequency, higher-register – but not scholarly – words such as this one.

5 responses to “eldritch

  1. Hi, James.

    Anyone whose education or career involved a lot of laboratory work with chemicals will also be very familiar with the brand name Aldrich. Some will also be familiar with their very thick catalogue that always had a painting by one of the old masters (usually Rembrandt) on the cover, because the founder (Alfred Bader) was a huge fan of this style of art. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigma-Aldrich (scroll down to “Subsidiaries; Aldrich”) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Bader .

    About 15 years ago, I was fortunate to attend a lecture Dr. Bader gave on the techniques used to preserve and restore such paintings.

    To me, the name Aldrich will always bring to mind Rembrandt and fine chemicals. 🙂


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