With my pending semi-seclusion (see previous post), I’ll hope to tide you over linguistically with not just one, but two Challenging Words of the Week. I’m up to the “Ls” in my book (for those paying attention, there simply wasn’t much of note to choose from in the “Ks”), and here are two words that might liven up your political discourse:
(LAY mee uh)noun
The lamiae, in classical mythology, were a race of monsters with female heads and breasts and the bodies of serpents, who enticed young people and little children in order to devour them. The story went that the original lamia was a Queen of Libya with whom Jupiter fell in love. Juno became furiously jealous and stole the children of the queen, who went mad and vowed vengeance on all children. Lamia became a term for any vampire or she-demon. The literal meaning of lamia in Greek is “female man-eater.” In medieval times, witches were sometimes called lamiae. The English poet John Keats (1795-1821) wrote a poem entitled Lamia a short time before his untimely death. In it, a bride, recognized as a lamia by the philosopher Apollonius of Tyana (born shortly before the birth of Christ), vanishes instantaneously. Keats based his theme on an incident related in The Anatomy of Melancholy of the English churchman and writer Robert Burton (1577-1640), who took it from The Life of Apollonius by the Greek philosopher Flavius Philostratus (born c. 170). The enticement or devouring of the young has long been a theme in legend, all the way from the Minotaur of Crete to the Pied Piper of Hamelin. There were no Missing Persons Bureaus in those days to trace the Hamelin kiddies.
My example: There appears to be no shortage of women in both the conservative and liberal ranks who arouse strong feelings amongst their opposition. The next time you want to lambaste a child-devouring she-devil don’t reach for the b-word like some ‘Kos-kid imitating their Greek; go with the Greek and call her a lamia.
(LAP ih date) verb
To lapidate is to stone to death, an old Biblical penalty first suggested by the Lord to Moses, as set forth in Leviticus, for various crimes including adultery, incest, homosexuality, and other such naughty practices, and latterly instituted by the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran for similar offenses. Jesus was gentler: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7.) Whatever one’s views may be on the question of capital punishment, lapidation (lap ih DAY shun) is beyond the pale; and never, never associate it with those honest gem cutters and stone engravers discussed under lapidary, even though it comes from the same source, lapid-, the stem of the Latin noun lapis (stone). Further, lapidate has nothing to do with dilapidate or its more familiar form, dilapidated, which comes from Latin dilapidatus, past participle of dilapidare (to demolish), based on the prefix di- (asunder; variant of dis– before certain consonants) plus the same old lapid-. From “dismantled, stone by stone,” dilapidated has come to mean “fallen into decay,” through neglect or abuse, and can apply to things having no connection with stones, from wooden houses to clothing in rags to moldy furniture and books, to say nothing of ravaged bodies.
My example:Despite the Old Testament and Ayatollah references above, lapidation today appears to be largely a Liberal activity. Or maybe it’s desired by both sides, but Liberals are just so much better at it, as anyone who has observed the lapses and subsequent, yet opposite, reprisals suffered by Lawrence Summers and Ward Churchill. The lesson: watch your step around the lamia in academia.