Archive for the 'word of the day' Category

Word of the day: kankedort

October 21, 2010

These past weeks my bedtime reading has been Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. It has been slow going, I don’t mind saying, chiefly on account of the fact that I am already half asleep when I pick it up, but also of course on account of the difficulties that Middle English poses for modern readers. Anyway, the other night I was plodding along, nearing the end of Book II, when I came upon a terrific word: kankedort. It comes at the very end of the Book, in a passage that finds Criseyde’s uncle, Pandarus, tricking her into meeting with Troilus, who lies abed, sick with love. Here is the passage, with a bit of context leading in:

Al innocent of Pandarus entente,
Quod tho Criseyde, `Go we, uncle dere’;
And arm in arm inward with him she wente,
Avysed wel hir wordes and hir chere;
And Pandarus, in ernestful manere,Seyde,
`Alle folk, for goddes love, I preye,
Stinteth right here, and softely yow pleye.

`Aviseth yow what folk ben here withinne,
And in what plyt oon is, God him amende!
And inward thus ful softely biginne;
Nece, I conjure and heighly yow defende,
On his half, which that sowle us alle sende,
And in the vertue of corounes tweyne,
Slee nought this man, that hath for yow this peyne!

`Fy on the devel! Thenk which oon he is,
And in what plyt he lyth; com of anoon;
Thenk al swich taried tyd, but lost it nis!
That wol ye bothe seyn, whan ye ben oon.
Secoundelich, ther yet devyneth noon
Up-on yow two; come of now, if ye conne;
Whyl folk is blent, lo, al the tyme is wonne!

`In titering, and pursuite, and delayes,
The folk devyne at wagginge of a stree;
And though ye wolde han after merye dayes,
Than dar ye nought, and why? For she, and she
Spak swich a word; thus loked he, and he;
Lest tyme I loste, I dar not with yow dele;
Com of therfore, and bringeth him to hele.’

But now to yow, ye lovers that ben here,
Was Troilus nought in a kankedort,
That lay, and mighte whispringe of hem here,
And thoughte, `O lord, right now renneth my sort
Fully to dye, or han anoon comfort’;
And was the firste tyme he shulde hir preye
Of love; O mighty God, what shal he seye?

What shal he seye, indeed? The good folks at the Oxford English Dictionary define the word as “A state of suspense; a critical position; an awkward affair.”  This passage from Chaucer is the only example that they cite, and the etymology is simply listed as “unascertained”. In other words, we are dealing here with that rare beast: a literary singularity.

My friends, it is not right that so solid and loveable a word as this should languish any longer in obscurity. Let us all endeavour to introduce it into our conversation as opportunity allows.

Word of the day: campus

July 15, 2009

A few days ago when walking across campus I remembered Rome.  This happens from time to time.  In this case I thought particularly of the Campo de’ Fiori — the Field of Flowers — which in turn made me reflect that the word campus is just Latin for “field”.  I had not noticed that before.  I mentioned as much to my wife, and she remarked that the words company and companion were perhaps also related, and considering that each has a vaguely military connection she speculated that campus might have originally meant something like “field of battle”.  Not to be left out, our daughter interjected with “Gaa!”  At that, I gave thanks for them both, and I resolved to look into the matter further when I had access to a good dictionary.

Once home I hauled out the OED, cracked it open, and blew the dust from the musty, time-worn pages.  Sure enough, campus means “field”.  Interestingly, the word’s first recorded use was as late as 1774, when it was used to describe the grounds of Princeton University.  “Having made a fire in the Campus, we there burnt near a dozen pounds [of tea].”  (From the beginning, it seems, the university campus was a place of wild debauchery.)

It is probably not surprising to learn that campaign is a related word, which we have borrowed from French, where it also meant “field” or “countryside”.  Its military sense derives from the fact that armies used to “take the field” for training and operations.  Its political sense intimates that those seeking political office should be “put out to pasture”.

The word company, however, appears to have a separate etymology.  Both it and companion come from Latin (com-panis) via Old French (compaignon), meaning someone with whom (com-) one shares bread (panis).

You are probably thinking that campanology, campaniliform, and similar words must also be related.  However, these are derived from the Latin campana (bell), and I have been unable to discover a connection with our word of the day.

Word of the day: canoodle

August 27, 2008

According to the OED:

canoodle, v. intr. To indulge in caresses and fondling endearments. Also formerly trans., to persuade by endearments or deception.

The earliest usage given is from 1859, but my favourite is from 1864:  “He will ‘canoodle’ the ladies … into the acquisition of whole packages of gimcrack merchandise.” [my italics]

The American Heritage Dictionary thinks the word is more explicit, defining it as “To engage in caressing, petting, or lovemaking.”

Before today, I did not know that this was the meaning of the word.  Before today, I thought it was a nonsense word.  In my ignorance, I have for several years been using “canoodle” as an affectionate, and perhaps sometimes gently mocking, synonym for “Canada”: “I am from Canoodlia”, “I’m a Canoodlian”, and so forth. I think I may have even used the word in that sense on this web log.

Well, this is all a little embarrassing.