Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mountains to the Max

Unexpectedly, given the quirkiness inherent in a letter that leads off such great words as ungulate and ululation and which has been enabling that most unusual letter, “Q,” for centuries, I couldn’t find “U” words that seemed particularly deserving of being this week’s word-of-the-week. Maybe because I just learned that Transylvania literally means “beyond the forest” (from the Latin ultra silvam, though some put the etymology at trans silvam, across the forest), I eventually gave into a word that meant something similar.
ultramontane (UL-tra-MON-tayn or UL-tra-mon-TAYN) — adjective: 1. Of or relating to peoples or regions lying beyond the mountains, especially the Alps. 2. When referring to the Roman Catholic Church a. Supporting the authority of the papal court over national or diocesan authority. b. Relating to or supporting the doctrine of papal supremacy. noun: 1. One who lives beyond the mountains, especially south of the Alps.
Normally, I use this space below the dictionary definition to blather on, but the book in which I found this particular word, Peter Bowler’s The Superior Person’s Book of Words, does such a good job explaining it and its eccentricities that I’ll just relay what it says:
Formerly, [ultramontane referred to] that faction within in the Catholic Church which either lived north of the Alps, outside of Italy, and opposed the concept of papal supremacy, or lived south of the Alps, within Italy, and favored the concept of papal supremacy. Nowadays, more commonly used simply to mean situated beyond the mountains. As, for example, Palm Springs. Not to be confused with ultramundane, which means beyond the realities of earthly existence; unreal, unworldly. As, for example, Palm Springs. Not to be confused, also, with ultra-mundane (with a hyphen), which means excessively humdrum. As, for example, Palm Springs.
I’ll point out that like ypsiliform and sinople, ultramontane could be a difficult word to define in context; while it always means the same thing, the given landmass or people being identified as ultramontane would depend entirely on who’s using the word. Essentially, this property of this word should prevent the bear from ever making his much-talked-about journey to the other side of the mountain. Relatively speaking, he would have already been there.

Previous words of the week:
Word nerd? Subscribe to Back of the Cereal Box’s word-related posts by clicking here.

No comments:

Post a Comment