Observations on words

[From some thoughts while slightly inebriated, last night]

The news story of the apocalyptic carp – the one which started to spout revelations in Hebrew in New York – was described as “ichthyological theology,” that is, Deus ex Piscem. In Hebrew one may refer to this as “Torah min hamayim” – Torah from the waters, as opposed to the more common Torah min shamayim, coming from the skies. (This is because “sky” – “shamayim” is actually a degenerated compound word, “sham-mayim”: there-water. “Sun” – “shemesh” – similarly degenerates from “sham-esh,” there-fire. This is a very old degeneration, probably predating Hebrew)

Ichthyological theology should not be confused with eschatological scatology (“Oh, shit. There goes the planet.”) nor scatological eschatology. (“Well, the world seems to be going to shit today…”)

On the subject of other word constructions, as I was discussing with hansandersen and doublefeh on the way home last night, Greek particles are fun. And there are some words that need to come into more widespread use: not just mythology but logomythy, the lore of learning, the secrets I tell my students about how to survive in physics; topology and topography need to be supplemented by topomythy, place-lore, not just an area knowledge but the stories of a locale; similarly mythography, the charting of legends, which keeps track of the ley lines and so on, and its linguistic dual graphomythy, the lore of mapmaking.

English is a great language.

Correction: It occurs to me that logomythy shouldn’t be the lore of study, but word-lore itself: that is, the content of this posting.

OK, I need to stop trying to avoid work now.

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Published in: on March 16, 2003 at 11:39  Comments (17)  
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17 Comments

  1. English is a great language.
    Not the least of which because it borrowed so much of the good stuff from other languages.
    Topology and topography need to be supplemented by topomythy, place-lore, not just an area knowledge but the stories of a locale; similarly mythography, the charting of legends, which keeps track of the ley lines and so on, and its linguistic dual graphomythy, the lore of mapmaking.
    You got through this statement without using the word geo.” Why?
    Geomancy is a name given to the use of the Earth’s energies, for magic or just tracking across the landscape in an intuitive way. However, it’s also used sometimes by dowsers who use their instruments to divine where the ley-lines and other underground sources of Earth-energy are present. I’m not sure whether I agree that those today both dowsing the lines and writing about them ought to call themselves geomancers, but they do, and because some of them are my friends I’m not yet prepared to argue them out of it. 🙂

  2. Ooh, I knew I was forgetting something. 🙂 Mancies are wonderful things. So let’s see… logomancy, divination by words, or through the usual shifts in meaning any action of word-magic… oinomancy, divination by wine-splatters, which I think we were discussing last night… and manias too, like the logomania which this is starting to resemble.
    Hmm… could that lead to another good geo word? Geomania, a madness about the Earth?

  3. Now I’m angry that I’ve managed to forget the term for divination by entrails. *sighs*
    Speaking of word-magic, around the time I was proofing ‘s Occult Swordplay text, I realized that minus one letter, it could become Occult Wordplay. A concept I like a great deal — even though it has too many possibilities to actually be put down into words (and I tried!). Ironic, that. 🙂 Or maybe not, since what is occult is hidden, and therefore can’t be properly written down. 😉

  4. Well, isn’t that precisely the point of temurah? 🙂 And I looked up the word for reading the entrails – it’s “extispicy,” although “anthropomancy” is occasionally used for scrying in people’s bits. (Thus the phrase, “When I want your opinion, I’ll read it in your entrails…”) I found a good list of these names here.

  5. Oh – I knew that word sounded strange. The common one I was semi-forgetting was haruscopy, or haruspicy, as in “Support your Friendly Neighborhood Haruspex!”
    Well, alright, “common” may be a bit of a misnomer. The only modern use I can think of for it is in Gaiman somewhere, Hettie explaining to some young folk exactly what she needed that dove for

  6. “Anthropomancy” has a familiar ring — that was probably it.
    Amusingly, and taking this full circle, I note on the same page that “ichthyomancy” is divination using fish — or fish entrails.

  7. So following this reasoning, should that conversation with the carp be ichthyology? 🙂

  8. No, that wasn’t it. On the other hand, those are fantastic words, especially haruspex (wasn’t familiar with it until just now). Too bad we don’t have friendly neighborhood haruspex (haruspexes? haruspexi?) anymore. I hate it when words die out like that.
    Ohhh… interesting:
    Main Entry: ha·rus·pex
    Etymology: Latin, from haru- (akin to chordE gut, cord) + -spex, from specere to look
    Main Entry: hara-kiri
    Etymology: Japanese harakiri, from hara belly + kiri cutting
    Probably these words aren’t related, but I’m equally fascinated when words from entirely different languages sound similar and mean similar things.

  9. Ichthyology, or ichtheology?
    What if the carp was channeling God? I’m not sure I have the linguistic werewithal to come up with a word for that.

  10. Ichthyology, or ichtheology?

    *Groan* *Thwack!*
    And perhaps the word for a fish channeling the divine will ought to be ichthyophany? (“Showing by means of a fish” – since phanein is the word used for things like epiphany, the manifestation of the divine?)

  11. Aha! Jim (sitting across the table from me at Dana St.) just suggested the perfect word – ichthyoglossia!

  12. I’m not content with either ichthyoglossia (good try, though) — if it means the same thing as glossolalia, that’s usually wordless gibberish (which Hebrew (even warnings of the end-times) isn’t, at least not to most of us). And ichthyophany is better — since if the carp were channeling the voice of God that would constitute a “showing.”
    Perhaps there’s a good word for those people who stand on streetcorners portending that “the end is near.” That could fit into it someplace.

  13. Well, glossias are simply speeches, so it must have been an ichthyoglossia whether it was true or false. But you’re right, it doesn’t quite convey the right idea. The people rambling on streetcorners might be eschatoglossic, but I can’t think of a good way to explicitly describe a fish prophesying the end of the world without saying something like ichthyoeschatoglossia, and that doesn’t even guarantee divine intervention – and this way, it’s starting to sound like German.
    Perhaps we should refer to it as an ichthyoglossic phenomenon, and leave open the question of whether it was in fact an epiichthic theophany, or simply some eschatological theomania on the part of the fishmongers?
    (OK, I admit that the last sentence was simply silly and wholly gratuitous. I think I like ichthyophany.)

  14. I can’t think of a good way to explicitly describe a fish prophesying the end of the world without saying something like ichthyoeschatoglossia, and that doesn’t even guarantee divine intervention – and this way, it’s starting to sound like German
    It occurs to me, as a Pisces with a German last name, that perhaps I should start applying such terminology to myself. 😉 I tried reading these sentences aloud to my boyfriend, Devin, and it mostly just in a lot of me laughing and trying to get through words. Not that one should be very serious when discussing a doomsaying fish.
    Perhaps we should refer to it as an ichthyoglossic phenomenon, and leave open the question of whether it was in fact an epiichthic theophany, or simply some eschatological theomania on the part of the fishmongers?
    We discussed this a bit (not in such words) over a late lunch with and . Whether it was a true event, or whether this pair of butchers had cooked up (ha) a scheme to tell the world about a fish that portented the apocalypse. It doesn’t make any sense that they would actually hear the fish speaking with the voice of God and then kill it, nor does it make any sense that they would concoct a fake story to gain attention, when the fish had been killed and sold nearly two months prior. The entire scheme makes no sense no matter how you look at it. I suppose turning it into a semantic and linguistic exercise is as good an outcome as any. 🙂
    (OK, I admit that the last sentence was simply silly and wholly gratuitous. I think I like ichthyophany.)
    I see no harm in that!

  15. Well, I believe the story had been making the rounds from the moment it happened – it just only reached the NY Times now. The question it’s been raising in my mind is, how many tape recorders hidden in fish around the country would it take to start a mass hysteria or cult phenomenon? 🙂
    (And would that make this a pseudoichthyoglossia?)

  16. *groan* 🙂

  17. whoa, small net…
    Yonatan! It is indeed a small world when fellow former (aren’t you done with the ITP yet? 😉 ) Stanford physics grad students pop up on my friend’s page unbidden by me! should have told me she knew you! Can’t she read my mind and know I was just looking you up on SPIRES last week or so?
    Howdy! How’s life? You intentionally trying to ward off nerds by not listing any LJ interests?
    -jake


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