Sunday, March 8, 2009

Momentous, Monumentous, and Jumentous

First, a clue:

Second, another clue: When used in conjunction, the three words used as the title of this post refer to something awful, though you may not be aware of why just yet.

Could it be that there’s some hidden meaning to momentous or monumentous? That very well could be the case, for all I know about the arcane histories of either word. But given that last’s weeks word was ignivomous and the one the week before that was honorificabilitudinitatibus, you could also rightly suspect jumentous, a very important-sounding word with an importantly equine-related meaning.
jumentous (joo-MENT-us) — adjective: 1. smelling like horse urine. 2. resembling horse urine in color and frothiness. 3. smelling strongly of a beat of burden or an animal. 4. in a historical sense, a term applied to urine which is high-colored, strong-smelling, and turbid, like that of horse urine.
If you’re someone who collects weird words, then you’ve quite likely come across this one before. Apparently few strange words begin with the letter “J” and a great many collections of verbal curiosities stick jumentous, often alone or with few companions and pretty much always in between the “I” and “K” sections.

Most sources cite jumentous as being related to the word jument, — which means “beast of burden,” though it seems the only time the word jument gets used in English anymore is in the etymology of jumentous, which itself doesn’t get much play. In French, jument translates to “mare,” according to this site and also the IMDb listing for the 1959 film La jument verte. I’m not sure how it became associated in French with only the female beasts of burden — and, indeed, perhaps only my ignorance of French is making me think this is the case — but the term comes the Latin iumentum, a neuter word just meaning “beast of burden.” I’m also unclear how the name La Jument became associated with a certain lighthouse in Brittany. Though built on a rock also named La Jument, the lighthouse would seem to have nothing to do with ladyhorses, beasts of burden, or the urine of either of these creatures. Its proximity to the ocean makes me wonder if the French noun mer might have had something to do with it, but then again mare also sounds and looks a lot like mère, meaning “mother,” and there’s absolutely nothing maternal about a lighthouse. Additionally, this blogger seems to have no qualms about associating herself with the word, whatever its gender.

Previous words of the week:

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