24 November 2015


The good old @HaggardHawks Twitter feed quietly crept past the 14,000 mark this weekend, which can only mean one thing—thinking-caps on (and a pen and paper at the ready for question 17), it’s time for another Haggard Hawks quiz...

17 November 2015


An intriguing word cropped up on @HaggardHawks the other day:

Which raised this equally intriguing question:

And that equally intriguing question has an equally intriguing answer.

Etymologically, the hyper– of hyperborean is the Greek word for “above” or “over”, as in words like hyperbole, hyperglycaemia and hyperventilate. The borean part simply means “northern” (as in aurora borealis), and it derives from the name of Boreas, the god of the north wind in Greek mythology.

To the Ancient Greeks, consequently, the adjective hyperborean referred to anyone or anything who lived or came from the land “beyond the north wind”—but we can be even more specific than that.

According to Homer’s Iliad, the god Boreas inhabited Thrace, a region in the far northeast of Greece on the Black Sea that today also covers parts of modern-day Bulgaria and Turkey. And beyond Thrace supposedly lay a legendary utopian land known to the Greeks as Hyperborea. There, there was no disease nor famine, and no one ever aged or fell ill. It was a land of utmost perfection, where the sun shone perpetually, twenty-four hours a day. (And where, presumably, everyone had very thick curtains.)

The fact that Hyperborea was a land of perpetual sunlight has led some classicists to believe that it might have been at least in part inspired by stories of the Arctic summer, but it is just as likely that it was a purely fictional invention and nothing more. The Greek poet Pindar, for instance, once wrote that Hyperborea could be reached “neither by ship nor by foot”.

Whether based on a real place or not, it was this mythical land that was the original “extreme north”: the adjective hyperborean originally referred to anyone who dwelt in or came from Hyperborea, and hence came from “above” or “beyond” Thrace. Over time, however, the use of the word became less restrictive and more figurative, and since the early 1600s writers in English have been using it more loosely to refer to anything or anyone of the far north.

12 November 2015


A pretty perfect P-word popped up on Haggard Hawks the other day:
Which raised this perceptively prompt post-script:
Actually, it’s the other way around. According to the OED (which labels this an “obsolete nonse-word”) the poet Robert Southey coined the word peripateticate in 1793, basing it on the much earlier fifteenth century adjective peripatetic

Nowadays of course you’re most likely to come across the word peripatetic in reference to itinerant or part-time jobs (and in particularly teaching positions) that involve moving from one location to another. But originally it was a noun: spelled with a capital P, a Peripatetic is a follower or advocate of the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. So how the devil are these two meanings connected?

Etymologically, peripatetic brings together two Greek roots: peri, meaning “around” or “about” (as in perimeter and periphery), and pateo, a Greek verb meaning “to walk”, “tread”, or “trample” (which is a distant relative of the word path). So peripatetic literally means “walking around,” and hence peripateticate means “to walk about on foot”.

As for Aristotle, well, if there’s one thing he liked it was a good old cogitate. And what better to do while you’re quietly cogitating to yourself than to wander around a beautiful classical Greek garden, like that at Aristotle’s Lyceum?

The Lyceum: Good for cogitating, less good if it rains
At The Lyceum—the sports-ground-cum-scholarly-gymnasium used as a meeting point and debating area—Aristotle reportedly had a habit of horbgorbling his way around the porticos, corridors, and gardens while he taught his lessons and debated with students, which earned him and his followers the nickname Peripatetikos (literally “given to walking about”). And so when the word Peripatetic first appeared in English in the mid-1400s, it referred exclusively to Aristotelian beliefs and techniques.

Later writers—Southey included—eventually commandeered this word, and used it in more literal senses to mean “a person who wanders”, “an itinerant peddler”, and ultimately “someone who works in various locations”. Not only that, but the plural peripatetics can been used to mean “movements”, “journeys”, or “wanderings”, and Charles Dickens being Charles Dickens, he of course had to go one better and use it in a figurative sense to mean “rambling” or “long-winded”, as he did in Our Mutual Friend in 1865.

But now it’s time to participate in a prompt peripatetication of my own. Aristotle would be pleased as punch.