Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I'm sure that the one or maybe two people who follow this blog have been living under the impression that I have now pretty much cleared up all that pesky ignorance that plagued me for so long--hence the languors of late. No, my friends, it's far from the case. Outer life with its claims to importance has kept me from posting. There is, in fact, a backlog of ignorance waiting at the floodgates.

Awhile ago, Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders fame suggested that I post about the word 'rubric'. Now just why he assumed I would not know what the word 'rubric' meant, I don't know, but of course it's already obvious here that he was right. 'Under the rubric of' means something like 'under the heading of' or 'under the category of'. In other words you could plug it into a sentence where either of those phrases might fit and get away with it. But, like me, you would probably still be none the wiser as to the actual meaning of rubric.

As this actually came up awhile ago, I've had plenty of time to try and tease out an etymology. But I've failed. The 'ru-' beginning leads me to think of runes, or possibly Rome. and the -ic ending, well, I've got cubic and tunic, oh and tumeric, now that I think of it, and for some reason I again think of Roman transplants. But enough of all my clutching at straws. Let's find out...

Rose, where did you get that red? That's a Kenneth Koch title about teaching poetry to children, by the way. But it's also a clue. I wish I had Sucharita Sarkar's way with fonts, colors and sizes to emphasize both the answer and my embarrassment at not somehow finding the obvious clue in all this--'rub-'.

As in 'ruby'. Ruber is Latin for 'red'.

Rubric does mean heading. And it does sometimes mean also 'class', or 'category'. But the only reason it means these things is because headings and such were at one point, designated in bright red letters--particularly in Christian manuscripts.

'Red letter days' are probably a parallel development, I'm thinking.

Friday, May 1, 2009


This comes, once again, from Adrian McKinty's always enlivening blog, 'The Psychology of Every Day Life'. (I know, I know--you want the link. Just be patient will you?) The review is for Amira Lakhous's excellent novel Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in the Piazza Vittorio. The quote is:

"Suspicion falls upon the saintly Amedeo who has gone missing and who seems to be the only one keeping order among the fissiparous residents of the run down block of flats in the otherwise charming Piazza Vittorio."

So of course I have no idea what 'fissiparous' means. If someone had asked me without context, I would have hazarded two guesses as to the meaning--phosphorescent, as in soda, or piscene, as in fishing. As may be evident, I am not that good when it comes to blind guessing.

However, in context I will venture that it means something like 'combative' or 'retaliatory'. What are you all going to throw out there? Not asking you to make public your blind guesses, but think about it for a moment...

Okay. It doesn't mean anything like that. It means 'reproducing by fission' or 'Tending to break up into parts or break away from a main body; factious.'

As there is no reproduction involved in this novel that I can remember, I think we must take the second meaning. I would like to say that that 'p' in fissiparous really threw me. But as 'fission' itself is a mystery to me, even getting it right wouldn't have helped so awfully much.