Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Antediluvian, Bibliomaniac, Curmudgeon
The word antediluvian comes from the Latin words ante (before) and diluvium (flood). Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) supposedly coined it. Webster's dictionary (1913) defines it as
a. Of or relating to the period before the Deluge in Noah's time; hence, antiquated; as, an antediluvian vehicle. -- n. One who lived before the Deluge.Somewhere I have a little collection of Greek and Latin phrases of the form "older than <some hoary mythological figure>." One who is older than Noah is apt to be forgetful, and I forget right now where my notes for this collection are. I think one of the phrases was "older than Deucalion." Deucalion is the equivalent in Greek mythology of Noah.
The word bibliomaniac comes from Greek βίβλος (biblos = book) and μανία (mania = madness). It means one who is crazy about books. The classic description of this malady is Holbrook Jackson's Anatomy of Bibliomania, inspired by Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. I have most of the symptoms of this disease. Once upon a time, when I was moving from North Carolina to Georgia, the driver of the moving truck said he'd never seen so many books. Almost twenty years have passed, and the situation has gotten much worse. Like the Maverick Philosopher, I prefer books to people:
It would be a hard choice, but if I were forced to choose between books and people, I would choose books. In any case, a book is a man at his best. So it is in one sense a false alternative: choose books, and you get people, distilled, reduced to their essence, and in a form that makes it easy to 'close the book' on their irritating particularisms. But people without books? That would be hell.The etymology of curmudgeon is a mystery. The Online Etymology Dictionary states:
1577, of unknown origin; Johnson's suggestion that it is from Fr. coeur mechant "evil heart" is no longer taken seriously; the first syllable may be cur "dog."Webster's dictionary (1913) defines curmudgeon as "An avaricious, grasping fellow; a miser; a niggard; a churl." I am a penny-pincher, but the churlish part of this definition fits me better. The same dictionary defines churl as "A rough, surly, ill-bred man." Fellow curmudgeon Dennis Mangan penned an excellent analysis of the elements of curmudgeonry, in which he recognized that the curmudgeon and the cynic have much in common. A cur is a mongrel dog, and cynic is another canine word (Greek κύων, κυνός = kyōn, kynos).