Wednesday, July 1, 2020


CONVERSATIONS with a Hypoxic Dog (CwHD) is now entitled WHIMSY. This is still a weblog about words and language and other inanities. CwHD began May 1, 2017. All posts are available in the Archives. The Bookstore opened in July, 2017, providing an overview of my published work. Essays are published monthly. More or less.

Archaic words are those terms which were once used commonly in a language, but which are now rarely used. They constitute a slow eddy, a back water, a stagnant pool in the stream of sound and image that is language. A synonym for archaic is antiquated which means characteristic of an earlier or more primitive time. Take primitive with a grain of salt. Homo sapiens today are no more evolved than the cave painters of Altamira. Evolution, like the water cycle, does not work towards perfection, only towards efficacy. And the same can be said for language.

The internet has a plethora of sites that list archaic words. Cheyne is such a word. Meaning? Pronunciation To read Shakespeare these days one must be well versed in archaic language. Both words and rhythms have changed over time.

Fools had ne'er less wit in a year;
For wise men have grown foppish,
They know not how their wits to wear,
Their manners are so apish.
(King Lear, Act I, Scene IV)

Not only is his language Elizabethan (17th century), but he also relished the words and phrases from the middle ages (roughly 1000 to 1500 CE). The Canterbury Tales (1387) provides a plethora of tasty verbiage; and the Tales are well worth a read. Cheyne is used in the following quote from Chaucer, and context provides ample clues to its meaning.

For with that faire cheyne of love he bond
The fyr, the eyr, the water, and the lond
In certeyn boundes, that they may nat flee.
(The Canterbury Tales
The Knight’s Tale, 2987–2993)

Vintage literature is not the only reason to be well versed in archaic words and phrases. To read history with some degree of understanding requires a knowledge of the language used during the period in question. 'Unique,' for example, no longer means unique. And, of course, the classic aphorism of Spanish philosopher George Santayana still applies:Those who do not read history are condemned to repeat it.

Use over time for the word 'plethora.'

Languages, like all concepts, have a flow to their pattern of development, their use, their misuse, their demise. The above might be described as a flow chart. This is but one of many ways to use the concept of flow to describe words and language. 'Plethora' seems to have made a comeback of late.

Flow theory, created by a somewhat obscure Hungarian professor of psychology, states rather baldly that humans are most content when they are in a state of flow; and flow is described as a state of mind which entails complete absorption in the task at hand. The state is further marked by intrinsic motivation and complete immersion. All else becomes lost to consciousness in these moments.

Language itself is fluent when the metered rhythm of the words matches both the measured syntax of sentences and the logical order of paragraphs. Once flow is established, various techniques can be used to emphasize content. Staccato delivery might be used to emphasize specific words (the hard boiled detective grilling a suspect; the emotional orator pushing an argument). Words with multiple syllables are often relied on to suggest the writer's or speaker's erudition. And space --- the long pause (look back at comedian Jack Benny) or blank in the middle or between paragraphs (common poetical device) --- is often used to change the flow of language.

When one has thoroughly learned a language, one is said to be fluent. Without an understanding of how languages evolve from origin to ending, fluency will be difficult. Non-native speakers prove the point. Even basic literacy will be compromised without some knowledge of both the old and the new and the rhythms of each. Who'd a thunk it. LOL.

Fluency has many definitions most of which pertain to reading and speaking well. The word simply means to flow.

Here is Santayana again:

... the whole machinery of our intelligence, our general ideas and laws, fixed and external objects, principle persons and gods, are so many symbolic, algebraic expressions. They stand for experience; experience which we are incapable of retaining and surveying in its multitudinous immediacy. We should flounder hopelessly, like the animals, did we not keep ourselves afloat and direct our course by these intellectual devices. Theory helps us to bear our ignorance of fact.
The Sense Of Beauty (1896), Pt. III, Form; § 30: p. 125

And click on the name to learn more about Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.