Daily Archives: October 23, 2013


Now, here’s a scholastic word for an elastic vocabulary. First thing to know about it is that we pronounce the ch as /k/. The rest of the pronunciation should be obvious (stress on the middle syllable, please). The sense is perhaps less so. Is there a savour of challah, or something cataskeuastic about it, or perhaps choleric, pyroclastic, or even cataclysmic? Hmm, rather not. Does it seems like a word that could be chic? Alas! That does not suit it to a t.

But if on the other hand it makes you cataplectic or acts as a laxative, well, congratulations: you have divined it. The word comes from Greek χαλᾶν khalan ‘relax’, from which issued χαλαστικός khalastikos ‘laxative’. So, yup, that Dulcolax you have in the cabinet is a chalastic – never mind the hard stops at front and back of the word /k/ /k/ that would seem to contain the liquid /l/ in the middle. But the other sense of it relates not to intestinal relaxation but to full-body loss of tone: cataplexy or sleep paralysis – in fact, sleep paralysis is sometimes called a post-dormitial chalastic fit. Which, honestly, is a bit of terminology that may induce its object.


This is a big word for a small thing, a fancy word for a thing that may well be plain. It has an air of encyclopedic enquiry, but if you are enriched by an enchiridion it is because it is condensed, information-rich. The word may look a little out of hand, but it is all about keeping things well in hand – literally: its Greek source is a word made of ἐν en ‘in’ plus χείρ cheir ‘hand’ (you see this also in words such as chiropractic) plus a diminutive suffix ιδιον idion. It names a handbook, a little manual, a concise treatise on something. Rather than hacking through the dense bush of an encyclopedic disquisition for the birds of enlightenment, an enchiridion gives you a bird in the hand.

The word pushes off with a kick from the back and then dances on the tip of the tongue; the chi rhymes with “sky” and the the stress is on the rid. The printed form looks a bit like a stretched-out accordion, but in the meaning, as with accordions, it is the compression that produces the effect.

There are several books of note that call themselves enchiridions. Perhaps the most noted of these is the Enchiridion of Epictetus, written by a Roman philosopher who had been a slave but was freed when his master was executed. It expounds stoic philosophy – a philosophy perhaps best expressed in the modern time by the prayer, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The Enchiridion is actually condensed notes by a student of Epictetus, and it cuts to the chase, starting off by telling us that we can change the things that are within our power, and can’t change the things that aren’t within our power, and if something is not in our power, we have no reason to attach our happiness or unhappiness to it, and if it is in our power, we should simply do what will achieve our goals. Do not desire; simply act, or be detached. It seems at first like good, practical philosophy, and is in line with insights offered by Buddhism, among other lines of inquiry, but it does run into the problem of discernment of what is and is not within our control – and there is also the fact that sometimes we enjoy our attachments to things beyond our control, even if we risk negative feelings should we lose them. Most people will find stoicism is very useful much of the time – but sometimes you just want to let things get a little out of hand, just as you sometimes want to use a fancier word than you need to.