Friday, February 16, 2007



The Worthless Word of the Day earlier this week was cumber-ground. I can't find a permanent link, but the definition was "a person or thing that uselessly cumbers the ground; a useless or unprofitable occupant of a position," and the citations included:Clare might have remembered the word from Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, which book pleased him "mightily" according to Jonathan Bate's biography of Clare (p. 28). I don't know who coined cumber-ground or when it first appeared, but I'd guess the inspiration was the question in the parable of the barren fig tree at Luke 13.7 (King James Version):
Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?

εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τὸν ἀμπελουργόν, Ἰδοὺ τρία ἔτη ἀφ’ οὗ ἔρχομαι ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν τῇ συκῇ ταύτῃ καὶ οὐχ εὑρίσκω. ἔκκοψον [οὖν] αὐτήν· ἱνατί καὶ τὴν γῆν καταργεῖ;
A Homeric equivalent of "cumber-ground" might be the phrase ἄχθος ἀρούρης (burden on the earth), which appears once each in the Iliad (18.104, ἐτώσιον ἄχθος ἀρούρης, worthless burden on the earth) and the Odyssey (20.379, αὔτως ἄχθος ἀρούρης, mere burden on the earth).

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