You have, perhaps, heard of “an exaltation of larks.” But what of exaltation for a lark? Of exalting words for wanton gratification? What of the stellification of the lexis: the consecration of words into a constellation, amplifying the merely empirical into the empyrean – a dark purple vault of prose into the universe? The ecstasy of explication? The apotheosis of apothegms and epigraphs and epochal epopees? Dammit, why have all these words unless we can shout them to the heavens, lift them to the dark skies, turn the ink traces on the white pages into so many mythical figures pinpricked in the nightly dome? Let language be stelligerate when it may!
Look, read this, from Cold Modernism: Literature, Fashion, Art by Jessica Burstein:
Her lexicographical prowess made her eerily fast on the cryptonymous counterpunch; she could feint to the distaff, drop to her knees, and make like to pray. A swift consult with Messieurs Furnivall, Murray, Onions, and Trench, and she’d be back bobbing and weaving before they knew what hit them. Diagnosing modern verse as supine, moschiferous, and polysarcous, Loy infused her poetry with illicit shards; the result was a disturbing mongrel, with bark no less stelligerate than bite. Taxonomers then entrenched her as the preeminent litterateur of traumatropism, having grown some peculiar poetry from the bed of a wound.
Burstein’s whole book isn’t as stelligerate (or belligerent) as that, of course; Burstein is plainly aiming to make the passage an icon – in the manner of a constellation more than a painting, perhaps – of the stylings of Mina Loy, whom it is describing. And, given the opportunity to let off some fireworks, why should one not take it?
I won’t define or etymologize all of the words in the passage for you; Google works fine, and I know you have an internet connection. But I am here for stelligerate – and for stellification while I’m at it.
Stelligerate is a word seldom used now (one might declare it obsolete, but clearly it’s used more than never); it means, as best the Oxford English Dictionary can conjecture, ‘exalted to the heavens’. It comes right from Latin stelliger, ‘star-bearing’, from stella ‘star’ and the suffix -ger ‘bearing’ (as in verbigerate, but otherwise not much seen in English).
Stellification, as you may well have guessed from the stell- and the -ification, means ‘making a star’ or, perhaps more precisely, ‘placing among the stars’ – in other words, making something (or someone) into a constellation. Its related verb is stellify.
Of course there’s an important difference between making something into stars and making something into a constellation: when you identify a figure as a constellation, you use stars that are already there. They have been burning in their separate distant places in the universe for eons, and from the terrestrial perspective you have decided that their perceptual alignment represents the figure. It’s all in your head; the stars exist independent of, and unmoved by, your fancy.
And so, too, we might say, when we use such stelligerate verbal stylings: the words were there from ages past, and we merely draw on them to exalt what we describe. But it’s not quite the same. A word exists only because of human minds and only as humans use it. You do not keep a star alive by using it in a constellation, but when you exalt a word, you fuel it. As it shines the light you want, it burns not the hydrogen of distant galaxies but the oxygen of your lungs – and the electricity of your mind and our millions of glowing screens. What a lark of exaltation.