One Word Is Not Enough

billy-onjea https://unsplash.com/search/olympus?photo=_qGq1Z2Bk6c

Where the Gods live

Latibule, Pierian spring, ideate, kalon, afflatus.

Let me try to explain what these words have in common.

So far on this blog I’ve discussed quotes from two books about fictional murderers awaiting justice, Albert Camus’s Meursault in The Stranger (1942) and John Banville’s Montgomery in The Book of Evidence (1989). Today’s Quote is from a third: Ernesto Sábato’s The Tunnel (1948, translation from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden). His protagonist is Juan Pablo Castel, a successful painter. A woman visits Castel’s exhibition and is drawn to one of his paintings; he, in turn, becomes obsessed with her. Disaster ensues.

Quote: I returned home with a feeling of absolute loneliness.
Usually that feeling of being alone in the world is accompanied by a condescending sense of superiority. I scorn all humankind; people around me seem vile, sordid, stupid, greedy, gross, niggardly. I do not fear solitude; it is almost Olympian.

What makes the Quote quiver?

A single word, backed by a list of synonyms.

jake-anderson https://unsplash.com/@jakeandersonphotog?photo=EMgRlkN6uOM

Is each pebble on the beach just a pebble, or is it unique?

My attention skated over the vile, the sordid, the stupid, and the greedy—I probably didn’t even consciously make it to niggardly—until I saw Olympian. That was the quoin that stoked my imagination. In my last post, Synonyms to Spare, I implied that a list of similar abstract qualities sounds pleonastic to the modern ear even if strung together for a noble cause such as emphasis.

Well, today’s Quote is a counterexample.

Omitting the string of six adjectives vile–niggardly, would leave a hollowed out passage: the state of being Olympian would be unqualified, unjustified even.


It is well-known that loneliness (the state of being alone in the world) and solitude (the state of being alone) are related, but that they do not necessarily engender one another.

Indeed, Thomas Mann’s fictional protagonist, Aschenbach, had something to say about the two extremes of solitude (Death in Venice, translation by Michael Henry Heim):

Solitude begets originality, bold and disconcerting beauty, poetry. But solitude can also beget perversity, disparity, the absurd and the forbidden.

All of Camus, Banville, and Sábato explore different aspects of perversity and absurdity, centring around the socially disparate and forbidden act of murder; Mann does so in terms of love for a juvenile.

But what of originality, beauty, and poetry? As a balance to the downpull of grim fictions, I offer a few words, rare and tantalising, that could lend solitude a positive aspect.

Places to seek out solitude: latibule (a hiding place), abditory (a safe place for your thoughts), penetralia (inner sanctuary of a temple, a mystery), adytum (home of the oracle).

In your place of solitude you may seek: to ideate (have ideas), a fillip (a stimulus), afflatus (divine or poetic inspiration), ataraxy (serene calm), a Pierian spring (poetic source of inspiration), proceleusmatic words (exciting, enthusing words), kalon (the ideal, moral good), pansophy (universal, encyclopaedic knowledge), or euthymia (belief in yourself and your path); you may seek to disenthrall the mind from the trivialities of everyday life; you may seek freedom.  

Wordplay Addendum

diomari-madulara https://unsplash.com/collections/173474/characters-typography?photo=FFZjSpUwc_I

Two of my favourite words from Banville’s books are ague (fever) and gules (red heraldry colour). They clustered in my mind, rearranging themselves in the following tongue-twister:

An age ago atop agora agued Jules glued gules jewels.

Try saying it fast end to end a couple of times.

Which got me thinking about the sound /ɡjuː/. (The /uː/ is the oo in root.) Other than ague and gules, /ˈeɪɡjuː/ and /ɡjuːlz/, I know of:

 ambiguityangulation, argue, gewgaw, gue (Shetland instrument), and hegumen (head of a religious community in the Orthodox Church),

pronounced, respectively:

/æmbɪˈɡjuːɪtɪ/, /æŋɡjuːˈleɪʃən/, /ˈɑːɡjuː/, /ˈɡjuːɡɔː/, /ɡjuː/, and /hɪˈɡjuːmən/.

Can you think of any other English words, regardless of spelling, that contain /ɡju/ in their pronunciation? I feel like there might be a whole vein of them lurking about.

(The sound /gjʊ/ doesn’t count; that’s the short oo in foot and it’s common enough: triangulation, figure etc. I’m aware there may be regional differences, and I’d be curious to hear about them.)

P.S. After completing this article I came across guz (heraldry colour like gules) and guvacine (alkaloid), but for those I resorted to a dictionary, and they’re pretty exotic.


Reading Recommendations

  1. The TunnelErnesto Sábato.
  2. The Stranger, Albert Camus.
  3. The Book of EvidenceJohn Banville.

2 responses

  1. There’s a quote about solitude which I like from Otto von Munchow, a Norwegian Photographer, Journalist, Writer and Teacher: ‘Successful artists, scientists, gurus and photographers all know that solitude is the sine qua non of creation, discovery and epiphany.’

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wise observation and one I believe in wholeheartedly.

      (Solitude is sometimes hard to explain to people who claim to be “bored” when alone; the same way, I suppose, they find it hard to explain to me how one can ever be bored when alone.)

      Like

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