Thursday, January 27, 2011
the President's State of the Union speech a couple of nights ago, made to both houses of Congress, an audience which has been noticable in recent days for its lack of vitriol. After the very sad shootings in Tucson, Congress seems to be making a conscientious effort to tone down the rhetoric a bit. Whether this helps, even as a symbolic gesture, I don't know. I certainly hope so, but by nature I'm a skeptic.
However, the main reason for this blog is not to express ignorance about unknowable things, but to seize on things I think I understand but probably don't. Like most Americans watching the news of late, I have heard the word 'vitriol' used many times. I know that it means something like rancor, or bad temper, or something like that in this context. But it occured to me that I don't really know what vitriol is in itself. It sounds a bit like alcohol or ethanol, so is it a word for a physical substance that has tranferred gradually to a more metaphoric meaning, or what exactly?
Vitriol, or at least oil of vitriol, is basically a concentrated sulphuric acid. Although our metaphoric sense attaches to its corrosive effect, the quality that gave it its name is its glassy quality, which goes back to the Latin for glass, 'vitrium'.
You never know exactly what you're going to turn up when you start these kinds of researches on the internet. So of course, I've saved the best for last...