I remember, back when I was young enough to be captivated by first reading of a Richard Scarry book, visiting some family friends who had a place somewhere rural. The house was new, and in front of the steps had been lain down a board on the grass for people to walk across. The board had slipped a bit and I could see revealed a tidy triangle of very pale grass, in stark contrast with the neighbouring blades.

Now, what could be the etiology of that? Ah, even at that age I could infer readily enough that it was lack of sun. But what I did not know then – did not learn until reading some French philosophy in graduate school – was the word one could use to describe that grass: etiolated.

Now, one needs to look at this word carefully. Although it has to do with lack of sun, is has nothing to do with presence of a star (French étoile), and although the colour may be flushed, there is no toilet in it.

Moreover, though the plant may seem violated, it would be a violation to pronounce this word to rhyme with violated. Rather, it is a dactyl and a trochee, the first three syllables said like “E-T-O” and the remainder like the latter part of related. In the ensemble, it has a slight echo of eat your lettuce, which, however, you probably don’t want to do if the lettuce is etiolated. You may also notice that all the consonants are on the tip of the tongue – none hiding back where the sun doesn’t shine, but also none blossoming on the lips.

Etiolated is not related to etiology, which is more originally ætiology. Rather, it comes – by way of various French phonological transformations – from Latin stipula, “straw”, and is related to stubble – and, yes, I should stipulate, to stipulate. And for those who are sad to see such a pretty word bleached by lack of use, you may be elated by this detail: it is often used (as I have adumbrated) figuratively, particularly of concepts and abstract qualities – such things as may be read of in library books, buried somewhere in chthonic bibliotechnic depths, far from the sun, printed on white sheets of processed plant matter…

2 responses to “etiolated

  1. Pingback: lackadaisically « Sesquiotica

  2. Pingback: exophthalmic « Sesquiotica

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