Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Daily Hump: Supercilious and the Father of Word Humping

GEORGE: Dad! I heard you were in the city the other day!
FRANK: Your mother has to tell you every move I make!?
GEORGE: No.. Jerry and Elaine saw you.
FRANK: They didn't say hello?
GEORGE: Well, they were in a rush.
FRANK: They couldn't just say hello?! .. Oh, to hell with them.
GEORGE: They, uh.. said you were with some guy who was wearing a cape, ha ha.
FRANK: Elaine, I can see, not sayin' hello. She's very--what's the word--supercilious.

First, an apology: In yesterday's hump I said that today we would hump ramparts (that's ramparts, not ram_parts). Alas, I received a Priority Code Alpha-1 Special Request to instead take a stab at supercilious, whose definition is best exemplified by the above Seinfeld exchange. To cut to the chase a supercilium is an eyebrow. It came to mean "feeling or showing haughty disdain" from the cartoonish practice of raising the eyebrow to express condescending pride.

Pretty boring stuff.

However, the second element, -cilium, is a bit more interesting. In Latin a cilium was an eyelid or eyelash. The plural is cilia, which you may remember from high school biology as being those small hairs that line the insides of your intestines (or nose) and mix the ingested food with your digestive secretions. The word is also related to the Latin celare, meaning "to cover, hide" and the Proto-Indo-European base *kel-, meaning "to conceal". From this root we get our word cell, which comes from Latin and refers to a small room, and cellar, which is the first element in the compound cellar door, of which Tolkien said:
Supposing you say some quite ordinary words to me - 'cellar door', say. From that, I might think of a name, 'Cellardoor', and from that a character, a situation begins to grow.
And in 1955 Tolkien wrote:
Most English-speaking people...will admit that cellar door is 'beautiful', especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful. Well then, in Welsh for me cellar doors are extraordinarily frequent, and moving to the higher dimension, the words in which there is pleasure in the contemplation of the association of form and sense are abundant.
This "contemplation of the association of form and sense" is word humping at its purest state and, thus, Tolkien is the father of the modern-day hump.

Supercilious [AHD]
Supercilious [OED]
Supercilious [Online Etymology Dictionary]
Cell [Online Etymology Dictionary]
Cellar Door [Wikipedia]

Labels: , ,

:: posted by David, 8:07 AM


Add a comment