Daily Archives: January 16, 2011


OK, yes, this word caught my attention when it crossed my eyes in no small part because of the x. (I’ve since uncrossed my eyes. Also undotted my tease.) You can just picture the effect of an unexpected word on the ordinary sleepy eye: sleepy eye e sees word, blinks for a moment x, then opens wide a. If it’s a really good word, the hairs on your head and neck might even stand up d. Safe to say, though, that your fingernail on your fingertip n won’t extend to be a claw, unless you’re a cat.

Adnexa seems like it could be a name for a girl, doesn’t it? Or perhaps for a consulting company or advertising broker. Or a model of car. At the very least it seems to me to have an air of almost studied sexiness, the sort that comes with wavy hair, long eyelashes, painted nails…

On the other hand (the one without the painted nails, I guess), the sound of it, I must admit, also makes me think of sinus congestion. It’s the /dn/, for sure, but amplified by the sticky-throat and harder-swallow sound of /ks/ at the x. That sense is a sort of awkward appendix to the rest of the word.

Hm, well, perhaps appendix isn’t the right word, quite. In literature, an appendix is something extrinsic but useful, but in the body an appendix is simply vestigial and without apparent function. And anything that bears on the taste of a word has a function – or should I say an effect. Even the off tastes come in subtly.

So what is the word for those parts of the body that are peripheral to an organ but also have functions? Like the eyelids on an eye – and the eyebrows, tear ducts, et cetera? The hair growing on your skin, and even the muscles that horripilate (make it stand on end)? Fingernails too? Oh, I know. It’s from Latin ad “to” plus nectere “tie, bind”. Is it annex? No, though annex also comes from that. Nope, the word I want is… oh, yes, you guessed it… (I guess I am dotting my tease after all…) It’s adnexa, noun, plural.


I’m listening to Jan Kaczmarek’s soundtrack for Washington Square, the movie directed by Agnieszka Holland in 1997. It’s really a nice piece of work, and one I do not tire of (except for the short children’s song “The Tale of the String”). In particular, there is one song in it, sung by Catherine and Morris as they play the piano, that is quite lovely. The words are in Italian; they are actually a poem by the Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo, “Tu chiami una vita.” (I feel quite certain that the song is not in Henry James’s book, although I have not read it. The book was published in 1880; Quasimodo was born in 1908.) The opening words are “Fatica d’amore.”

Ah, now, what is fatica d’amore? I’m sure you know that amore is “love”. Fatica, for its part, happens to be related to English fatigue. (It it also pronounced with the stress on the first syllable.) So is fatica d’amore “fatigue of love”? It could mean that; it could also mean “hard work of love” – you could say “labour of love,” though more in the sense of “love’s labours.”

But how is it that the word could mean both the labour and its result? Well, at least the senses are connected. The Latin source, as it happens, is a verb, fatigare, which means (according to the Pocket Oxford Latin Dictionary) “weary, tire, fatigue; harass; importune; overcome” (and of course we have an English verb fatigue, which you now know was not formed by verbing the noun). Verbs that denote the causing of an effect can be nouned into the effect or the cause. Or, sometimes, both, by choice.

In English, we mostly don’t use fatigue to refer to things that cause fatigue, though in the past it was an available sense. The modern exception is in military usage, where non-soldierly grunt work, often assigned for punishment, is called fatigue (and the kind of clothing one wears to perform such work is called fatigues). Otherwise, it refers to a weariness that comes from sustained exertion.

Indeed, it almost seems a word made to be said when fatigued. It starts with the puff of /f/, and then a reduced vowel in an unstressed syllable; after that is the /t/, which may be crisp but comes with a puff of air after it that, in a fatigued condition, may become an escaping sigh. The main vowel is that /i/ that we hear in please, gee, yeesh – the tongue still able to tense, but the incipient exhaustion and perhaps exasperation is forcing its way through. And then it ends with that back-of-the-mouth stop /g/, as in words of tossing up one’s hands as with ag! or just trying and failing to swallow. Put all together, it moves from the front to the back in a sort of fading away, evanescing.

The written shape has a certain something that way too, if you wish. The f is already bent over; the t is shorter; the i is more reduced again; and after that nothing stands up, and in fact it sinks in a slump into g. The last two letters aren’t even pronounced. (That’s because we got the word from French, but I will not tire you with a history of French pronunciation and orthography.)

Of course something may be a labour of love without being laboursome or fatiguing – these word tastings are an example for me. But I have a hunch that Salvatore Quasimodo, in his poem, meant something deeper. The poem speaks of sadness and of naming a life that within, deep, has names of heavens and gardens (and Kaczmarek’s music repeats a lovely sequence on “di cieli e giardini”). But then it adds, “E fosse mia carne che il dono di male trasforma”: “And it would be my flesh that the gift of evil transformed.”

Evil? Well, or misfortune, harm, pain, ache… just like French mal. Heavens, gardens (to labour in?), flesh transformed by a gift of hurt… indeed, the fatigue of love. And, not incidentally, quite apposite to Washington Square.