What can help a person reach old age last, or make their young age last longer? What could keep all those facial muscles that sag elastic? What might keep you in the la-la stage and out of some seniors’ stalag, eh? To my mind, it’s absolutely not being an agelast!
This is no laughing matter. I’ll explain: this word, first of all, has no relation to age and last. The morphemes that formed it in its Greek source were a (α) “not” and gelast (γελαστ), a root to do with laughing (γελαστος, “laughable”; γελαστης, “laugher”). An agelast is someone who doesn’t laugh. The word has three syllables, not two. And a now disused adjectival form is agelastic.
I bet we all know people like that: po-faced sorts who don’t think anything could possibly be funny. The people who piss in the popcorn of life. Sharing the world with those of us who think life is too important to be taken seriously are people of this sort who have no place for laughter. You might say they are the opposite of, say, thelemites.
Well, François Rabelais thought so. He was the one who came up with the term agelast (well, in French, agélaste), to characterize those sorts of people (whom he identifed with the Catholic Church of his time) who were life’s wet blankets – everything he liked least.
This is a nice, light, almost crispy word, like an expensive canapé on the tongue. At the same time, it has an overriding flavour of age and last, make of that what you will. The question is, is this a word we’re likely to keep and use for this? It has a flavour of erudition, certainly, and is suitable for scholarly discourse. Which is where it turns up: those places where one fears one would be looked down on for using a nice, lively, picturesque term like wet blanket – let alone piss in the popcorn. Ah, yes, the world of scholarly writing: the new bastion of the agelastic, and for that reason the place most likely to see the word agelast used…