And what then if you are left with a word such as scævity? What viatic will you take to vaticinate its sense? Its very presence on the page scatters meaning – ay, evicts it, leaving a vast cavity that you scavenge for sense. You seek perhaps to reap significance, but the scythe cuts from the other side, and it is you who are grimly reaped. How can you get the upper hand? Look up.

Look it up.

But even then you are unlucky. It is not a common word. You can find the main meaning, but nothing will tell you how to say it. Go figure.

Go figure it out for yourself. Here: it comes from Latin scævitas. So if you were saying it in Latin, it would be /ske vi tas/. But you aren’t. It’s no longer a Latin word; the itas is now ity. And I’ll tell you for free – though you might have guessed as much, given the assimilated form – that it was borrowed into English a few centuries ago. In the 1600s, in fact, if not earlier. So the pronunciation will conform to the long-established English way of saying such things: æ like /i/ (“ee”) as in encyclopædia; this also makes the sc “soft,” just like the c is “soft” is cæsar and cæcum. So: /si vɪ ti/.

But what is scævitas? It is a noun form of scævus. Which means ‘left-sided’. And also means ‘awkward’ and ‘perverse’ and ‘unlucky’. Our word scævity (you can consciously uncouple the æ to ae if you wish) means ‘unluckiness’ and also ‘left-handedness’. Which is a rather left-handed thing to say.

Or, actually, not. It’s right-handed, and obliviously so, because why is it so bad to be left-handed, aside from everything catering to right-handed people? Some of the finest people I know are left-handed. Half of the American presidents in the last century have been left-handed, including Obama, Clinton, and Bush senior (not W, though). As far as I can tell, left-handedness increases the odds of a person being interesting. But of course it is in a way unlucky: You have to put up with all those oblivious right-handed people and all their oblivious right-handed stuff. (Try this: Find a camera with the shutter button on the left.)

Thanks to @tonythorne007 for suggesting scaevity.

2 responses to “scaevity

  1. Oh, this suits me! I’m left-handed. 🙂

  2. Daniel E. Trujillo Medina.

    My wife also complains that the shutter button is always on the right of all cameras. As a soldier, I know some rifles have different safety locks on each side, making it easier for right handed people to lock the gun in a single movement. Lefties have to have better aim if they want to do the same or else take a fraction of a second longer to lock, which is obviously a problem.


    Daniel E. Trujillo M. @VolcadoDePila ________________________________

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