Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Lady or the Poisonous Witch?

Despite the absence of a word of the week last Saturday, you’re only getting a short one for today, mostly because there’s not all that much written about it. Why rush it, I figure. Strange words abound.
veneficial (ven-e-FISH-el) — adjective: 1. acting by poison, or poisoning. 2. acting by, or used in, witchcraft or sorcery. 3. relating to the doings of Venus, the goddess of love.
The value of this word, of course, lies in the fact that it’s pronounced almost identically to beneficial, even though veneficial would be most often used in a negative context. (Witchcraft isn’t necessarily bad, I suppose, depending on what side of the hex you’re on, and the more venereal of the three meanings could easily turn out badly, as anyone who’s hit puberty can attest.) Most dictionaries that include veneficial — which is not many, by the way, though it does appear in the 1913 edition of Webster’s — note that it’s a variant of the more-common-but-actually-all-that-common veneficious. I found it in Peter Bowler’s The Superior Person’s Book of Words, which doesn’t include an etymology, though it would appear to come from a combination of the Latin venenum, “poison,” and the verb facere, “to do, make, perform or cause.” The linking of poison and sex struck me as strange, initially, since I never associated Venus and venereal with venom, but Derrida’s Dissemination notes that the concepts may be connected, even “double-faced” if explorations into Indo-European and Proto-Indo-European are any indication

Previous words of the week:

1 comment:

  1. Ok, I've been busy and haven't commented in awhile, but I have to say that of all the words you've done, I think this one is easiest to remember. I have this great vocabulary of words and a horrible memory to match with it. This word sounds like another, really common word, and because it comes from Latin (which I took for three years) I finally have a fun word I can remember. :) Plus, it's always nice to know words related to Witchcraft that your Wiccan friends don't. Bwahaha and just in time for Halloween.

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