Monday, August 16, 2010
Valetudo: An Auto-Antonym
I. habit, state, or condition of body, state of health, health, whether good or bad....Thus valetudo is an auto-antonym, or word that can mean the opposite of itself.
B. In partic.
1. A good state or condition, soundness of body, good health, healthfulness....
2. A bad state or condition, ill health, sickness, feebleness, infirmity, indisposition....
Sometimes the meaning (good or bad health) must be inferred from context, without the help of an adjective. For sense I.B.1, Lewis & Short cite Horace, Satires 1.4.9-10 ("cui / gratia, fama, valetudo contingat abunde," tr. H. Rushton Fairclough: "if favour, fame, and health fall to him richly," i.e. "health without a let" in John Conington's translation); I noted sense I.B.2 while reading Suetonius, Life of Augustus 43.5 ("accidit votivis circensibus, ut correptus valetudine lectica cubans tensas deduceret," tr. J.C. Rolfe: "It chanced that at the time of the games which he had vowed to give in the circus, he was taken ill and headed the sacred procession in a litter"), not cited by Lewis & Short.
We see the pejorative meaning of Latin valetudo in its English derivative valetudinarian, defined in The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia as "Being in a poor state of health; weak; infirm; invalid; delicate; seeking to recover health" and "A person of a weak, infirm, or sickly constitution; one who is seeking to recover health; an invalid." See Joseph Addison, "Letter from a Valetudinarian" (Spectator No. 25, Thursday, March 29, 1711):
I am one of that sickly tribe who are commonly known by the name of Valetudinarians; and do confess to you, that I first contracted this ill habit of body, or rather of mind, by the study of physic.Related posts:
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