Thursday, September 04, 2008



David Norton writes in an email:
As for suffix –meal, I was surprised that you omitted reference to G. M. Hopkins, whose archaizing tendency (or, I would prefer to say, whose zeal to reinvigorate modern English with elements from its earlier history) led him to coin such words as "leafmeal" in the lovely poem "Spring and Fall" (below).

Spring and Fall

to a young child

MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow's spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
For many years I was puzzled by the wíll in the ninth line here, but then one day I was reading I. A. Richards, who suggested that it is not in the future tense but instead means approx. "insist on", in a way much more common in England than here.

Thinking of –meal, I recall –wise, which instead of falling out of favor has instead been corrupted, perhaps terminally. Now, instead of "in the fashion of", it is used much more often to mean "in relation to".
The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. leaf, n.1, mentions leafmeal, defined as "adv. (nonce-wd.), with leaves fallen one by one," with a citation to Hopkin's poem, which is dated "Lydiate, Lancashire. Sept. 7 1880."

Catherine Phillips, in her edition of Hopkins' Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), illustrates leafmeal with a quotation from Hopkins' Journal (Oct. 17, 1873):
Wonderful downpour of leaf: when the morning sun began to melt the frost they fell at one touch and in a few minutes a whole tree was flung of them; they lay masking and papering the ground at the foot. Then the tree seems to be looking down on its cast self as blue sky on snow after a long fall, its losing, its doing.
Late Latin foliatim (the equivalent of leafmeal) seems to be used more often of the leaves of books than of trees and other plants.

Among the examples of leafmeal revealed by Google Book Search I see several where it is clearly not an adverb but a noun, with the suffix -meal representing the noun meaning "powdery substance produced by grinding" (separate semantically and etymologically from meal = repast), e.g. "the five-fingered fronds are trodden into leafmeal" (Margaret Drabble), "wading through leafmeal" (Thomas Bolt), "seasons of clotted leafmeal" (Matthew Sharpe), "a healthy mixture of compost and leafmeal" (Jack Driscoll), etc.

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