Tuesday, December 28, 2010


This post really arises out of our ongoing group reading of Finnegans Wake, where the word "demiurge" came up, probably via Joseph Campbell, and made us all scratch our heads a bit last time. But in trying to get a handle on it, I thought of "demimonde" and also "demitasse". I realized I'd been fudging them all a bit, because I don't really know the meaning of that initial prefix. One member of our group was fairly certain that a demiurge was a sort of god. I am thinking that demimonde is a kind of subworld, like, for instance, the underworld of crme, and a demitasse is a kind of small cup, so maybe 'sub' is the general meaning here. It's quite possible that I am not only wrong about the underlying meaning but about the more general meaning of the words themselves, so I suppose it really is time to just plunge in...

Did I say 'half'? I really did think half at one point, but since we already have hemi and semi, I didn't think that could possibly be right. What gives?

Well, hemi, semi and demi do all mean half. They probably all relate back to one of those Protoindoeuropean roots, but they are filtered through, respectively, Greek, Latin and Old French. Demimonde, interestingly comes from and old Alexandre Dumas fil comedy, in which the demimonde is "half the world". It is "the link between good and bad society ... the world of compromised women, a social limbo, the inmates of which ... are perpetually struggling to emerge into the paradise of honest and respectable ladies". One of these denizens is called a demimondaine.

A demitasse is, fairly straightforwardly, a halfsized cup.

But things are never simple. It turns out that demiurge, the impetus for this blog post, does not come from "demi" at all. It comes from "demos", the common people, and "ergos", work. The demiourgos was a public worker in Greece, and this was sometimes used as a title for a magistrate. Kind of like a public servant in our parlance, I expect. In Platonic thought, the maker of the world was  such a magisterial being, a subordinate to the Supreme Being and not always working for the good. (Look around--are you surprised?)

I did discover a term I had never heard of before: the hemidemisemiquaver, or a 64th note. You've heard of a quarter note, right? Think about it...


  1. The person in the main picture is either a demigoddess or a demimondaine. That's for you to decide.

  2. I always associate Demiurge with Chaucer,
    for some reason that is lost in the mists of time.

    A very interesting post and exceptionally good illustrations.

    Happy New Year from Dublin!

  3. Loved this, and also your choice of Demi as an illustration!

    I was thinking "half" as I read, but the idea of "sub" is in there in the applications of the word, isn't it?!

    And your example with "demimonde" as "half the world" then sent me to a Leonard Cohen song, "Half the Perfect World," also now a CD by Madeleine Peyroux, to rethink that a little, though it's about something else.

    So thanks for this morning excursion!!

  4. Seana

    As I understand it in many early heretical Christian faiths the explanation for our messed up fallen world is that God has more or less retired from the scene and the Earth is governed by an evil demiurge

  5. Photographe,

    Thank you. A compliment from you on illustration counts for a lot, but really it's just a very random sort of thing with me.

    Happy New Year from California as well. Personally, I am going to be happy to put a cap on this one.

  6. Kathleen, yeah, Demi is just to draw the punters in. I'll have to track down that Leonard Cohen song.

  7. Adrian, I've heard of some of the early schisms, so probably also heard demiurge used at some point. It isn't really very satisfying in the long run, as it doesn't really get a supreme being off the hook in the end. But at least it gives a sort of explanation for what ails us.

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  9. "As I understand it in many early heretical Christian faiths the explanation for our messed up fallen world is that God has more or less retired from the scene and the Earth is governed by an evil demiurge"

    Sure, blame everything on public servants, just like a damned Republican.

    I remember a hemidemisemiquaver from piano lessons. I had not thought about the hemi/semi. Greek/Latin correspondence. The h to s must be a regular sound correspondence between Greek and Italic languages. Think of hexagon and six, for example.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  10. BTW todays NYT had a 36 hours in Santa Cruz feature...your name did not come up.

  11. Thanks--I saw it, thanks to my internet server posting a link. I actually found it a bit ho hum, and not just because they didn't seek me out for some local tips.

  12. Well this is a demijohn

    and this is a full size one:

  13. Paul, what can I say? Except that, for someone so often filmed, I was surprised that the article on the second subject had no pictures...