Daily Archives: May 8, 2010


I wouldn’t be surprised if this word made you think first of peregrine falcon. That would seem to give it a somehow nobler air, that aloofness of birds of prey, with the possible hint of patrician and the distinguished air that many words starting with p can seem to have. The /gr/ in the middle of course has a bit more grip; it here makes for echoes of green and plants a grin in the heart of the word. But the pere brings back a French father – and an English pear, perhaps. The scope of the word gets a boost from the expanse of the nation. And perhaps that nation is one you cross on foot, as one makes one’s pilgrimage across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela.

One need not be making a pilgrimage to be on a peregrination, but anyone who is on a pilgrimage is making a peregrination. This word comes to us little altered from Latin peregrinatio, “travel”, “journey”, “being abroad”, but the same root – or its noun form peregrinus, “journeyer” – has wandered a little farther to show up also as pilgrim and pilgrimage, the first /r/ now transformed to an /l/. A peregrination thus will always be a journey or wandering, most typically by foot (although in the modern world cars and airplanes are not proscribed), and sometimes symbolic.

Which leads me to what this word makes me think of first: the text of the music by Sergei Prokofiev for the battle on Lake Peipus in the movie Alexander Nevsky, directed by Sergei Eisenstein. The words sung over and over, a leitmotif for the Teutonic knights, are peregrinus expectavi, pedes meos in cymbalis. When first encountering it (and having to sing it), I understood the first part – “a pilgrim I waited” – and thought the second part had something to do with feet and with something that looked like cymbals but clearly couldn’t be. Well, in fact, it was – Prokofiev had snipped words from four places in the text of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, and stuck them together to make something meaning “a pilgrim I waited, my feet on the cymbals”. It starts comprehensible but then kind of wanders off (in the grand tradition of lorem ipsum)… neither you hearing nor I repeating can make it not clash; whatever you’ve awaited, what you get is just symbolic. So don’t have a bird; just relax – go get a glass of San Pellegrino, which will have journeyed from Italy just for you.

Thanks to Elaine Phillips, currently on a peregrination of her own, for suggesting this word.