Monday, August 16, 2010


Valetudo: An Auto-Antonym

Lewis & Short, A Latin Dictionary, define valetudo as
I. habit, state, or condition of body, state of health, health, whether good or bad....
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....
Thus valetudo is an auto-antonym, or word that can mean the opposite of itself.

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:


<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?