Saturday, December 13, 2008

I, for One, Welcome Our New Verbal Overlords

We did it folks. Beginning with my entry for fissilingual all the way back in May, we’ve now made a complete loop around the alphabet, as of the posting of this entry. Sure, we had a few doubles in the mix, but we made it all the way around nonetheless.
epeolatry (ep-i-OL-uh-TREE) — noun: the worship of words.
No fireworks here, just something that seemed appropriate enough to end this cycle and that began with the right letter. Anu Garg chose this one for A.Word.A.Day earlier this year and explained that it comes from a combination of the Greek root epos — meaning “word” and related to our word epic — and -latry — which comes from the Greek latreia, meaning “worship” and related to our word idolatry. The word is not especially well-known or even that old. Garg and the guy who runs World Wide Words both claim that the first recorded use of this one is Oliver Wendell Homes’s 1860 novel Professor at the Breakfast Table: “Time, time only, can gradually wean us from our Epeolatry, or word-worship, by spiritualizing our ideas of the thing signified.”

Despite its rarity, the word has two distinct uses: literal and metaphorical. The latter could be used to describe me, they guy who enjoys words enough that he spent the last six months looking for noteworthy specimens. However, the Wikipedia entry on epeolatry expands on the former interpretation of it as it applies to religions that rely heavily on the written word. “One could call Christianity an epeolatric religion because the majority of its teachings hinge on the words of the Hebrew Bible,” the article notes. But this all may be a moot point. “However, you are unlikely to encounter the word in any form because it remains obscure,” the last sentence reads.

Previous words of the week:
I may attempt another run-through of the alphabet next year. Perhaps I’ll start on something more sensible than the letter “F.” “A,” maybe?

Here’s to words.

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