crapulous

Naughty things – those that bring pleasure but may have very undesirable consequences – tend to have a lot of words for them. A person adhering to the “Eskimos have 50 words for snow” idea* that people have more words for things that are more important and central to their lives might well conclude that drunkenness and sex are two of the most important things to Anglophones. Proceeding in the other direction, they might come to conclude that Eskimos (better to call them Inuit) see snow as a naughty pleasure.

There are far more English words for “drunk” than I could possibly mention in today’s note; I could actually do nothing but words and phrases for “drunk” for a whole year. They come with many different tastes and tones and implications. We all have our favourites, of course, and will use different ones for different contexts.

Recently, a colleague in the Editors’ Association of Canada was looking for one that had just the right elevation of tone – dignified but not snooty. Among the ones I thought might be appropriate were tipsy, three sheets to the wind, under the influence, flying, feeling no pain, blotto, pie-eyed, sozzled, squiffy, tanked, boiled as an owl, drunk as a lord, and, of course, in one’s cups. Interestingly, there are a lot of Anglo-Saxon words in that list and almost no Latin-derived ones. And one very plainly Latin-derived one is not on it: crapulous.

Crapulous comes originally from Greek κραιπάλη kraipalé, which referred to the symptoms of a hangover. Latin took that word and made it crapula, which is not the name of a low-quality vampire; it means “excessive drinking” or “inebriation, intoxication”. From it we get a set of English words, including crapulous, which commonly refers to drunkenness but is also usable to refer to the undesirable effects of drunkenness.

You can see why, in spite of its classical roots, crapulous does not carry a dignified tone. The overtones are obvious in English; a person may be forgiven for thinking that crapulous is like craptacular, and crapulence (the related noun) a crappy opulence like fugxury. I first saw crapulous (slightly altered) as a name of a drunken Roman in Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield – Titus Crapulus – but did not instantly make the connection between crapulous and drunkenness; I think I connected it first with rhinophyma (that bulbous red nose often, and not always accurately, associated with alcoholism).

This word seems to have various bits dissolved together: along with crap we have a mixed-up soul and an incomplete louse, a hidden cup and two cups u u (plus one seen from above o); anagrammed, it forms the response uttered by a pair of linguists caught pressed flat together, predicating directly: “Us, copular?” (Those linguistics parties. I’m told they do get up to some antics before they pay the sin tax.)

The form of this word seems to highlight a particular aspect – or vector – of the alcohol experience. We all know that being right ripped, home-style hammered, ploughshared, plastered, shellacked, et cetera, can make a person feel crappy thereafter. Craptacular, in fact. So it’s not so unreasonable that crapulous looks like a blend of fabulous and crap: it’s what you get after drinking a lot of fabulous crap – first you feel fabulous, and then you feel like crap. It’s easy when crapulous to think you’re fabulous but to look ridiculous and eventually end up in the crapper, destined to creep out of bed in the morning, joints crepitating and mind captious, wincing at the crackling of a wrapper, skin prickling at the touch of crepe paper. Alcohol may seem like a solution – well, alcoholic beverages are solutions, of ethanol and esters and whatnot in water – but in the end, you will see what it can precipitate.

*The idea that the Inuit have 50 words for snow is not really accurate, and anyway since Inuktitut is an agglutinating language – it sticks a lot of parts together to make very long words where English might use a whole sentence – counting words in it is a mug’s game. On top of that, we have a lot of words for snow and its various types in English. So there.

Thanks to Stan Backs for suggesting crapulous.

3 responses to “crapulous

  1. ” A person adhering to the “Eskimos have 50 words for snow” idea* that people have more words for things that are more important and central to their lives might well conclude that drunkenness and sex are two of the most important things to Anglophones. ”

    Well, I do not exactly adhere to the idea, but, I find some element of truth in it. I used to know about 40+ synonyms for final liberation ‘Nirvana’ at once! I do not know how many I remember now.

  2. A bigoted linguist is usually anti-semantic, especially after imbibing an elegant sufficiency to a crapulous conclusion.

  3. Pingback: 365 words for drunk | Sesquiotica

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