Wednesday, 3 February 2021

And he shall purify

 Good old Liddel & Scott (Ancient Greek dictionary known by its authors' names to all students of Ancient Greek) lists a number of words having to do with purity:

The key prefix is кɑθ- (kath-). The name Katharine in its various forms is a member of a cluster of words in this general vicinity. The Cathars, had this in common with the Puritans, though not in their beliefs (except in that they espoused a particularly purist form of their religion).

Katharine refers to purity ...

The innocent-sounding Catherine wheel refers to a particularly gruesome method of torture, which was meted out to St Catherine – though she was by no means its first victim.

...and many other girls' names are positive-sounding abstract nouns: Charity, Felicity, Gloria, Grace, Honor, Joy,  Lætitia (Latin for the same thing), Modesty, Patience, Prudence, Ruth, Verity, Victoria...

(not so much boys' names, I think – a legacy of the sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice school? – Felix and Victor come close, but they means "happy"and "winner" respectively rather than happiness and "the fact of winning", and I suspect "Endeavour" was Colin Dexter's joke: this site calls it a girl's name. 
Maybe, though, there are boys' names that are positive-sounding abstract nouns; they're just less obvious than the girls' ones. Hmmm... 
Is this just a function of an arbitrary (? – really? Maybe  the sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice school were involved in the assigning [that word is, of course, totally unrealistic. Language doesn't work like that. But the whole "school of thought"  idea is itself metaphorical – and language-users were involved in linguistic choices that shaped the language] of gender to those words... 
But this thought is getting a bit more than "initial". Perhaps I'll do an update
...) fact about the Latin words for these abstract nouns – caritas, felicitas, gloria, gratia, honor, lætitia  ... etc. They are chiefly (all?) feminine; it'd be perverse to attach such a word to an unnamed male baby. 
.... I could (probably - given a bit of research) go on – not that I don't (go on, that is).

But what started me on this line of thinking (in case you've forgotten, kath- words) was
this article in the Observer, particularly this bit:

This is not the first time that a war of words has erupted over Greek.  [HD: The article is about the influx of Covid-related Anglicisms.] 

Arguments over the language, between proponents of change and traditionalists advocating a return to its Attic purity as a means of reviving the golden age, go back to the first century BC. Controversy continued through 400 years of Ottoman rule, becoming especially explosive in the run up to the war of independence in 1821.

The struggle over whether purist Greek, or katharevousa, officially inducted as the language of the state after the revolution, should prevail over demotiki, the commonly spoken vernacular, raged until 1976 when demotic officially replaced it.

 I first met the word katharevousa in 1979...

(or more probably 1980, having let the brooding presence of the huge scholarly manuscript haunt my guilt-pile for a few months. I say more about this daunting manuscript in an update to a very early post – the fourth, to be specific.) 
Arthur Toynbee's manuscript for The Greeks and their Heritages  
"[now out of print, but whose notes featured correctly inflected Latin abbreviations - not just idem , but eosdemeamdem and so on]" 
early post
had been knocking around the editorial department at OUP's General Division for several years after the great man's death, ignored by less painstaking (or, let's be honest, wiser or at least  less stubborn) predecessors in my "Editorial Assistant" role.

Time I reappeared in the Real World.


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