Odd Words: Catafalque

CatafalqueAnd so we stumble into page 42 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! There has not yet been a page that contained so few words that I knew.

The Words I Knew

Rather than go over the words I didn’t know, it is much easier to do the words I did. Really, there were only a couple that I knew. Have I gotten more ignorant since earlier when I started this series?

The first word on the page that I knew — Word 16! — was “castigate.” I’m really fond of that word. It reminds me of just how magical language is. I have no clear memory of ever hearing or reading the word, yet there it is in my brain. I assume that it is thanks to my mother, who had a very good vocabulary. It’s amazing to think about. I’m so lucky to have had that experience. Most people are not. I really think these kind of random influences on your life have a profound effect on who you are.

I also knew “casus belli,” which I think I would have worked out even if I didn’t already know it. Now that one I didn’t get from my mother. In fact, I have a vague memory of coming upon the word in books and working out its meaning.

I also knew “cataclysm” and “catalepsy.” But that was it. Given that I’m not feeling great about myself, this page was not really good for my mental health.

Cheese!

I really wanted to use either of the words “caseate” or “casefy.” They are words describing the process of being turned into a cheese-like substance. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good quotes for it. I was looking forward to integrating a Wallace and Gromit video.

Well, I guess there’s nothing stopping me. I could go with the Cheese! video. But this one is nicer:

Casualism

Surprisingly, I didn’t know the word “casualism.” I’m usually fairly up on philosophy. But this isn’t a very big one. It is “a philosophical doctrine holding that all events occur by chance.” According to Wikipedia, it was first developed by Epicurus. And it seems it is more a cosmological theory. The idea is that the universe exists by chance and not by the planning of a god or similar.

I was thinking that this belief could be applied more generally to life. What I have noticed in the world is that we are incapable of figuring out the cause of things. That’s not to say that there isn’t a cause, just that we are far too parochial to see the big picture.

Or maybe it is fundamental. My mind naturally rebels against casualism. I naturally believe there must be ways of perceiving and thinking that allow one to make sense of the universe. But maybe that’s not true. Maybe Aristotle was as wrong about logic in Organon as he was chemistry.

Catafalque

This takes us to our word of the day, which isn’t that great (except that it has to do with death): catafalque.

Cat·a·falque  noun  \kat’-əfalk\

1. a raised platform on which the coffin of a dead person is laid.

Date: Mid 17th century.

Origin: from French, from Italian catafalco.

Example: His casket rested Friday on the same wooden catafalque used for the body of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. –Ruane et al, Scalia Lies in Repose on Lincoln’s Catafalque as Public Bids Farewell

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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