Two Lexical Larks

“Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness.”

Romans 13:13

Towards the end of the fourteenth century, John Wycliffe rendered the Greek word κοιταις as “chambering,” and the editors of the Authorized or King James Version followed his example more than two hundred years later.  Bedding would have been the most literal translation, since κοιται is Greek for bed.  When St. Paul needed a word to denote the erotic behavior of homosexual males, for instance, he coined the word we transliterate as Arsenokoitai, which is literally “men-bed,” and we continue to use the world “bed” as a metonym for sexual intercourse (especially immoral sexual intercourse). Continue reading

The View from Stranger Hill

There is a small hill about fifty miles north of here, and like many hills, small and large, it bears no public name.  This anonymity is regrettable, albeit more regrettable for the public than for the hill, and this is because all human companionship begins with the exchange of names.  As a hill is mute by nature, and therefore unable to divulge its real name (assuming it has one), we are obliged to supply the want and give it a nickname. Continue reading

On Church Going

“Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious  
And gravitating with it to this ground  
Which he once heard was proper to grow wise in”

Philip Larkin, “Church Going” (1955)

Friends of religion are sometimes found in surprising places.  Likewise, its enemies.  I am not a topsy-turvy fantast who believes that saints are most often found in saloons and brothels, or that men of the cloth are uniquely wicked and prone to vice, but I have learned that there is no more than a probable relation between rectitude and religion. Continue reading

The Brambles and Roughs of Oblivion

If you have ever observed the collapse of a wooden building, you know that the evil begins with a hole in the roof.  It is here, as we say, that the rot begins.  And from this point of incipient decay, the mischief spreads to the rafters and joists, causing these members to rot, and fail, and by failing to open new and larger holes.  As the trusses disintegrate, support is withdrawn from the overstrained and rotting ridgepole, until this unsupported beam begins to sag, and at last gives way, bringing the remains of the roof down with it.

Old Progressive Church, Kudder Road, Brazos County, Texas 

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Odious and Odorous Comparisons

When in their nonage, all of my children were eager to discover the ne plus ultra of my likes and dislikes. They were forever asking me to tell them my favorite food, my favorite animal, my favorite author . . .    Indeed they made many attempts to pin me down on my favorite favorite. My children were in those days equally eager to discover the utmost depth and rock-bottom of my loathing, horror and detestation. What was the most disgusting food I’d ever eaten? What was the worst book I’d ever read? What manner of dying did I most decidedly dread? Continue reading

The Meek did not Cringe

“He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”

Luke 22:36

If my versification of the FEAR seemed craven and cringing, you may be heartened by this story of swift and righteous retribution in 1838.  It took place in the town of Washington, now abandoned, about twenty miles south of where I sit.  The narrator is Zachariah “Wildcat” Morrell, an itinerant Baptist preacher on the Texas frontier.  If the Fear does not prompt you to sell your garment for a sword, it should perhaps prompt you to sell it for a hickory walking stick with a buckhorn handle.  The conspiracy of “fiends and mockers” strikes me as a vivid metaphor, the chicken and its choker not excepted. Continue reading

The Blight of Telmarine Science

“To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language . . .”

William Cullen Bryant “Thanatopsis” (1817)

It is hard to say whether Man or Nature is more subject to moods, and therefore whether Bryant’s “various language” originates in peculiarities of the tongue or of the ear.  If silence can be taken as a sort of language—and there can be no doubt that silence is expressive, we cannot deny that Nature often withdraws into cold taciturnity, and that in this mood she appears as the beautiful but icy queen that I yesterday called la belle dame sans mercy. Continue reading