Monthly Archives: August 2020

fellowred

What would we call a model for society that considered its most important aspect to be care and compassion for others rather than the opportunity to take as much as possible for oneself? A model that started with the genuine assumption that it’s worth helping and taking care of each other, and that by making sure to contribute well to our common good we will truly raise the tide and lift all boats, without worrying about making sure that the ones we think don’t deserve it don’t get lifted, and rather than thinking that if a few people can build yachts with decks high above the rest the tide will follow?

Does this sound like something reds and fellow-travellers would say? Well, it is what we can call fellowred, but it has nothing in specific to do with communism. It’s just an attitude of mutual respect, friendship, comity…

I mean, we ought to have a more common word than fellowred for just this kind of thing, and we do, but we don’t, because the sense of that word has shifted: for many people, fellowship has taken on a distinct religious, especially Christian (and perhaps in particular Evangelical), air; in academic contexts, it has a particularly pecuniary air; in some other contexts, it has a Tolkienian air, as in The Fellowship of the Ring. But in general it gives an feeling of a coterie, a chosen few, rather than a broader sense of an attitude or society.

We also have the word companionship, but these days that mainly seems to refer to a Platonic (or not) relationship with a specific other person with the end of not being lonely. And we have comradeship, which is not bad, but may imply tighter ties that bind.

So. There’s fellowred, which is fellow plus red, not as in the colour but as in kindred (and hatred): an old suffix seldom seen now, forming nouns of condition or quality. Fellowred hasn’t been used much in the past half millennium, but, then, we haven’t always focused as much on what it names as we should have, either.

By the way, in spite of collocations such as fellow man and common uses to mean ‘guy’, ‘dude’, ‘bloke’, etc., fellow is not originally or intrinsically masculine. It comes from an old Scandinavian root meaning ‘partner, business associate, companion, comrade, spouse, collaborator, ally’, and that’s what it came into English meaning and still, in many uses, means. So although it has long had some specifically masculine uses, there remain many senses that haven’t become gender-specific (the academic sense comes right to mind again).

And so we can, if we want, talk of doing things not for profit or for the team or for spite or for #winning, but for fellowred. Because, to lightly paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, there’s only one rule I know of: you’ve got to be kind.

subsannate

When you feel you’re slipping into sub-sanity at the basic buffoonery, unsubstantiated transubstantiation of pumpkins into pantocrators (apocolocyntosis), and far too much of the tail wagging the dog, sometimes the only riposte is to be waggish: to deride the pale rider, to dump Humpty, to subsannate the saboteurs.

I promise you I am not taking the piss (so to speak): I have not made this word up. But you won’t find it often in modern texts; it has slipped into desuetude. Which is a pity, because we still have use for it – or at least for the act it names. But come, follow me as I trace this carbuncle up from the mines of ancient time.

In Ancient Greek, there was a word σαίνειν sainein, meaning ‘wag the tail’ or, figuratively, ‘fawn [over someone]’. Be a happy puppy for a person, in other words. We don’t really know where this word came from, but I’m sure it was nice, wherever it was.

Anyway, σαίνειν was adapted into the noun σάννας sannas, which meant ‘clown’ or ‘buffoon’ (I guess they quickly smoked out the sycophants). That noun in turn got grabbed into Latin as sanna to mean ‘mocking grimace’ – the sort of thing I usually call ‘a sneer’, though I suppose they may have done it differently at the time; different cultures have different mocking faces.

That Latin noun then, with the addition of sub (‘under’), got converted to the verb subsannare, ‘sneer, mock, deride’. And from that came a whole set of English words: not just subsannate but subsannation, subsannator, and – in at least one text – a more lace-at-the-throat version of the verb: subsanne.

And, yes, subsannate means ‘mock, deride’ – in particular with an implication of a mean face: as Thomas Blount’s 1656 dictionary Glossographia puts it, “to scorn or mock with bending the Brows, or snuffing up the nose.”

Oh, with BeNdiNg tHe bRoWs or snUfFinG uP tHe NoSe. Huh. Funny way you have of expressing mockery, mister Blount. Well, you do you.

And to all the other Dumpty Pumpkins out there: I subsannate you too. And not just in your general direction, either.

muskellunge

A muskellunge walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Why the long face?” The muskie says “Because you guys messed up my name!” The bartender ducks below the counter because it’s about to get ugly.

Some people have heard of a muskellunge, or at least have heard of it by the name muskie. Others have not, or at least not until they had a muskie lunge at them. Or more likely read a story about someone who had a muskellunge lunge at them.

Muskellunge do lunge muscularly! They’re ambush predators. But they rarely attack people. Not never, but not often. They prefer smaller things: muskrats, rats, frogs, ducks, and other fish.

Oh, yes, a muskellunge is a fish. It’s a popular sport fish, owing to the fact that they’re big enough to do some damage: typically two to four feet long (in 2000, someone caught one weighing more than 60 pounds – nearly 28 kilograms – in Georgian Bay). They live mostly in the Great Lakes area of North America, though they have been introduced to some other parts of the continent for the entertainment of the rod-and-reel set.

A muskie is like a northern pike – a big, ugly one. In fact, that’s how it got its name (nothing to do with lunging at muskrats). In English we now say the name as three syllables (or two, if you just say muskie), but it used to be four; we got it from French masque allongé, which means ‘long face’ (see joke above). But…

masque allongé is an eggcorn, like sparrowgrass for asparagus: it’s a reconstrual of a word as something made of more recognizable bits. The word entered French as manskinongé. It came from Ojibwe ma:škino:še: (also spelled maashkinoozhe), from ma:š ‘ugly’ and kino:še:northern pike’.

Apparently the dark bodies with light markings that real northern pike have are prettier than the silver, brown, or green bodies with stripes and spots that muskellunge present. But I wouldn’t say so in front of one of them.