That’s Rather Daedal of You

Unusual words can put a spell on me.  Almost like a tune that goes around and around on my personal internal soundtrack, but instead of processing cyclically, such a word will sit in my mind and shimmer.

Consider daedal. It means: Ingenious and complex in design or function; intricate.  As in “The daedal hand of nature.”  From the Greek daidalos: skillful, cunningly created.

This is an evocative word which somehow in its two syllables and sound steers me toward what it describes.  It reminds me of dreams on the edge of wakefulness, where patterns of intricate, impossible beauty revolve and then disappear immediately upon rising.

Language is a perpetual Orphic song
Which rules with Daedal harmony
a throng
Of thoughts and forms, which else senseless
and shapeless were.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound

Then there’s numen. Plural numina. There’s three dictionary definitions that work well together:

  1. A presiding divinity or spirit of a place.
  2. A spirit believed by animists to inhabit certain natural phenomena or objects.
  3. Creative energy; genius.

The first one especially has meaning for me as a painter and as an experiencer of the wilds.  I read once someplace that almost every place has its own god, and this odd notion has stuck with me for some reason.

The best landscape paintings capture this… they evoke the mystery of nature and existence at that specific place.  They hint at the god which dwells there.

Just going for a hike with my wife, I will pass where a tree gently shades a turn in the trail, a breeze stirring the grass, and I will muse about the local divinity hiding nearby.  I generally don’t mention it out loud though.

Quiddity fits in well here: the real nature of a thing, its essence. It’s the part you grok (as in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Stranger Land).

Sometimes you come across a word for which you haven’t had a concept, really, until that moment.  A word like that for me is maieutic (may-YOO-tik, mi-):

The aspect of the Socratic method that induces a respondent to formulate latent concepts through a dialectic or logical sequence of questions.

[From the Greek maieutikos, to act as midwife, from maia, midwife, nurse.]

This seems to be a skill sorely lacking in our world, or at least rare.  I would have appreciated running into somebody with that kind of ability.

I will leave this with one of my favorite words: bloviate. To bloviate is to be a pompous ass, speaking grandiloquently of that which you know little.  Don’t you bloviate with me, young man, my mother would say.

There’s a great bit by writer H.L. Mencken about U.S. President Warren G. Harding’s habit of excessive bloviation.  It could apply to many politicians.

He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.

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2 Comments on “That’s Rather Daedal of You”

  1. bloglily Says:

    Thank you! A skillful, cunningly created piece. The Mencken is very funny — I’ll remember it when I begin to bloviate.

  2. fencer Says:

    Thanks… I always get a chuckle, especially, out of Mencken’s, “It is so bad that a kind of grandeur creeps into it.” Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m aspiring to that myself.


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