Weep, for life is fretful and fleeting.
Weep, for the race goes not always to the fleetest of foot.
Weep, for the finest-fletched arrow may fall short.
Weep, for the felt of the table may be torn.
Weep, for the best are oft left behind.
Weep, for many fine words are known only to lexicons.
The plight of the forlorn neologism, of the hapless hapax, of the word that is named only when it is defined, would make the very sky weep to the point of pleuvisaud. It is, as the Oxford English Dictionary tells us, fletiferous: ‘causing weeping’.
Did you know this word, fletiferous? You did not, I think, but you do now. You know the -iferous part, of course, with its Latin -fer- root at heart having to do with bearing or bringing: coniferous, odoriferous, pestiferous, and so many more. The flet- comes from Latin fletus ‘weeping’, from fleo ‘I weep’.
It’s a well-formed word, predictable in construction, and naming a quality that is known to exist. It has every reason to be used. Yes, it’s a four-syllable classically derived word; you’d expect to find it in academic texts and poetry, and probably not in more quotidian (everyday) prose. But its fate does not reach even that. As Oxford tells us, it is “Obsolete. rare. Apparently only attested in dictionaries or glossaries.”
And in a flit and a flutter, it has left… has left us in tears.