Category Archives: Word of the Day

Word of the Day: Polysyndeton

One of my friends used the word “polysyndeton” today, and I said, “OOO NEW WORD” and looked it up.[1]  Wikipedia explains polysyndeton as:

the use of several conjunctions in close succession, especially where some could otherwise be omitted (as in “he ran and jumped and laughed for joy”)

There’s something utterly delightful about loving a writing device and using it all the time and then realizing there’s a word for it.  Yay!

Upon further reading, I discovered I also use asyndeton a lot, which is the omitting all the conjunctions — for instance, I could write the example in the quote above using asyndeton as, “he ran, jumped, laughed for joy.”

The thinky part for me here is that I have, in the past, thought I should without exception use semicolons when juxtaposing independent clauses without conjunctions.  For instance, it seems one of the oft-cited examples of asyndeton is, “Veni, vidi vici” — “I came, I saw, I conquered.”  These are three independent clauses, so were I writing something similar, I would have felt I should have more correctly punctuated it as, “I came; I saw; I conquered.”

But the semicolon gives a different “feel,” doesn’t it?  It reads like three separate sentences joined up because there’s a common idea or because these things happened in quick succession.  The commas, on the other hand, give the sentence a different rhythm; the clear omission of a conjunction makes the words tumble into inevitability, as if they are less a statement of three separate but related facts and more an unquestionable domino effect.

I’m a huge fan of the correct use of semicolons — but there have been times I would have preferred to use commas for effect but wasn’t quite aware enough of what I was doing.  Learning this is a known literary device and putting the name “asyndeton” to it helps a lot: now, rather than wallowing in edits with, “but is this punctuation correct?,” I can consider the sentence and decide whether I want to use semicolons or employ asyndeton with what otherwise would be compound sentences with a conjunction.

So for me, this is a rather delightful example of how better learning the rules can help one break them!

(Usual disclaimer: I’m an armchair linguist.  Corrections and further elucidations are always welcome!)

  1. OH LOOK I didn’t even realize I did that. Whee!

Word of the Day: Compersion

Compersion, as far as I know, is a neologism, and it means taking joy in another’s happiness or success.  From Wikipedia:

Compersion is an empathetic state of happiness and joy experienced when another individual experiences happiness and joy. It is sometimes identified with parents’ pride in their children’s accomplishments or one’s own excitement for friends’ and others’ successes. It is commonly used to describe when a person experiences positive feelings when a lover is enjoying another relationship. It is an opposite of jealousy.

“Compersion” was coined by (and appears to be used widely within) the polyamory community for the feeling of joy one can get over a lover’s pleasure with another person, but it can also be used platonically.  The Wikipedia article notes that it can also be considered an antonym to schadenfreude.

Folks, this is my new favorite word.

It makes my year when my friends experience great success or happiness.  I’ve always used the term “vicarious joy” when this happened before, but “vicarious” carries a tiny bit of a negative connotation, as if I don’t have (or pursue) my own accomplishments to make me happy.  Compersion, on the other hand, is absolutely perfect.

I also delight even in the success of strangers, and find no pleasure in their failures.  Growing up, I never watched the Olympics hoping for the figure skaters to fall or the skiers to wipe out.  No, I wanted to watch them be awesome.  I wanted to see them land the impossible trick, prove that the limits of the human body were not what we thought they were.  I have always found extreme competence to be so, so, so much more fascinating and thrilling to watch than failure—I find Cirque du Soleil well worth the money but see no appeal in America’s Funniest Home Videos.

And now I have a name for this.  Compersion FOR THE WIN!

Word of the Day: Erethism

I hope there never comes a point when I stop learning new words.

I came across “erethism” reading H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, yes-I-only-just-got-around-to-it-give-me-the-cap-of-scifi-shame.  (Incidentally, how about that Kindle lookup feature?  Awesome.)

The sentence in The War of the Worlds is:

The intense excitement of the events had no doubt left my perceptive powers in a state of erethism. I remember that dinner table with extraordinary vividness even now. My dear wife’s sweet anxious face peering at me from under the pink lamp shade, the white cloth with its silver and glass table furniture […]

My Kindle, I believe, uses this same dictionary, or at least gave me the same definition:

  1. excessive sensitivity or rapid reaction to stimulation of a part of the body, especially the sexual organs.
  2. a state of abnormal mental excitement or irritation.

This is a fantastic word, people!  And it even sounds like what it means!

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