Friday, 12 December 2014

Word to the Wise

Neglected gems of the language for taking down the pub and introducing to your mates. With a True Tale by way of illustration.


In-uh-luhk-tuh-buhl: Adjective: incapable of being evaded; inescapable; not to be resisted.

From the Latin: ineluctabilis, from in-, “not,” plus eluctari, to force a way out of or over, surmount, from ex-, out of, plus luctari, to wrestle or struggle, plus -bilis, as in able, ability.

Related forms: ineluctability, noun; ineluctably, adverb. Sadly, there is no positive version (ie eluctable).

The word ineluctable first appeared in English around the 1620s, when the meaning was “not to be escaped by struggling,” with the emphasis on the fighting your way out of it part, which is where it differs from some of its similar near neighbours in the language, as we shall see. Reluctant is also from the same luctari root and appeared at about the same time (the re- in this case indicating against) from the obsolete verb reluct, to rebel against, making the original meaning of reluctant a much stronger and more forcible action – doing something positive (or positively negative, if you will) about a situation – rather than our modern usage, which tends towards “a wee bit disinclined”, as in the teenage maxim of reluctance “do I have to?” We also use reticent in much the same way, though its actual meaning is “to be unwilling to communicate or say all that one knows”, coming from tacere, to be silent, from which we also get tacit and taciturn. Both ineluctable and reluctant may get their luctari root from the Greek, lygos, a pliant twig, developed out of lygizein, to bend or twist, from which came the Old English, locc, a twist of hair. If we consider that the word trim (as in all trim and shipshape) comes via the Old English, trum, strong, then what, pray, becomes of the innocuous sounding sentence, “He was reluctant to trim his locks but it became ineluctable”? We’ve all had to use those very words from time to time, haven’t we, but what we’re actually saying is, “He was unable to rebel against strengthening his pliant twigs but it became impossible to escape by wrestling.” What a tangle that would be! Except that tangle comes from the Old Norse, pongull, for seaweed, and who’s ever heard of a sentence being described as seaweed? Well, up until now, that is.
As we are all aware, Christmas is now impending, a time when the family clans gather in ferocious packs, and there can be little doubt that the situation is exactly the same in the Ineluctable household, so which of his close relatives will he be expecting to drop round this Yuletide for a swift pre-prandial stiffener, we wonder? First of all, there’s Inexorable. Very classy customer, is inexorable, well worth keeping in your quiver and firing into an unsuspecting conversation at the slightest provocation, being made up of in- (negative) plus exorare, to prevail upon, which itself comes from orare, to pray, making any inexorable predicament one that cannot be moved by entreaty, or even by miserable pleading. Orison (a prayer) is from the same root, as are oration, oratory and orator, making your orator not so much somebody who speaks in magnificent thunderous terminology as one who pleads his case and appeals to his audience’s better nature. Was Churchill then nothing but a pleader? That’s very much a matter of opinion.

Our next guest would be Inevitable, once again sharing the same in- blood (negative) plus evitare, to avoid, from vitare, to shun or to go out of the way. Making inevitable something you just can’t get out of the way of. He’s brought with him another tasty sort in Ineludible, who is something of a complicated fellow, still with the same in- to start with but then adding eludere, which means not only “to escape from” but also “to make a fool of” or even “to win from at play,” so he’s none too sure what he wants to be in the end. As eludere boils down to ex-, out of, and ludere, to play, eluding can be seen to have the sense of tricking your way out of a situation, or use of the wits to escape. From the same root we get delude, to mislead or deceive (cheat, they generally mean) and also allude, which now means to make an indirect reference to but originally meant to mock or make jest of. Then there’s ludicrous, of course, something which is the source of amusement, and also, an especial pet favourite in this corner, ludic, or spontaneously playful, a word that comes to us via the funloving (ludic?) French and their ludique, which makes our own ludic sound a bit flat by comparison and not at all playful. Quel dommage! Oh, and let’s not leave out ludo, “I play,” which didn’t even turn up until the nineteenth century, so any visions you may have entertained of Roman legionnaires sitting around beguiling their spare time with a few frames of Ludo are, quite frankly, ludicrous. Not with all that crucifying and scourging and laying waste they had to be getting on with.
No Festive gathering of this sort could be said to be complete without our final attendee, none other than Inescapable, of course, a much more down to earth, no nonsense sort of chap, or so it would seem at first glance but, as the moonshiner so rightly observed, a still’s waters run deep. We all know what escape means, but do we really? Especially when one theory holds that the word derives from the Latin, excappare, which is ex- (out of, again) and cappa, which is, bizarrely, a hooded cloak, so to escape is thus to get out of a cape or, literally, remove one’s cloak and hence free oneself. “The Ancient Romans” (it says) “would often avoid capture by throwing off their capes when fleeing.” No doubt legging it from an enraged bookie come to collect the Ludo stakes? It all sounds a trifle ludic from where we’re standing. Much more convincing, however, is what it actually sounds like: if you remove the two suffixes from inescapable (ie, in- and ex-) what are we left with but capable? That comes from the Latin, capabalis, receptive or able to grasp, which itself comes from capere, to catch, to hold, to be large enough for (a nod to capacious and capacity here) and, ultimately, to comprehend. Thus making escape mean “out of grasp”, with the implication that you’ve been in someone’s clutches to begin with.
So, to recap, then. We’ve got Ineluctable, Inevitable, Inexorable, Ineludible and Inescapable. All pretty much interchangeable but each with a distinct tang of its own: a situation ineluctable is one that can’t be wrestled free of or struggled out of; one inevitable can’t be got out of the way of; one inexorable is one you can’t argue or beg your way clear from; one ineludible leaves no room for tricking or outsmarting your way to freedom; whereas one inescapable means the grip of the bonds is already beyond your capacity to break them. And, as we’ve seen, rather than capacity there, we really should have used ability or even capability. But let’s not nitpick. Your task now, armed with this knowledge, is to decide whether the denouement to this week’s True Tale was ineluctable, inevitable, inexorable, ineludible or downright inescapable.
Dogs are great, aren’t they? The thing about dogs is (unlike some people we could mention): they don’t make judgements, they love you no matter what you’ve done and they are always genuinely glad to see you, without ever asking much in return. (And they certainly won’t keep bringing it up time after time after time if you do happen to make the very simple and entirely understandable mistake of forgetting her birthday that once.) Anyhow, this week’s True Tale, as you’ve probably surmised, is on dogs. Or, more accurately, one dog in particular.
Tucker: a not overwhelmingly gifted fellow, especially when it came to the brain department, given that his was roughly the size of a pea, though, strictly speaking, size was of no material importance, seeing he never bothered to use his much at all, the result of which was that his behaviour, put in human terms, tended towards the eccentric or the unpredictable, sometimes even the downright flamboyant. Maybe that’s how he got his name, who knows? (That's not him, by the way, but the nearest we could find). He wasn’t so much a pet, more just another resident, in a student household in Laburnum Grove, Portsmouth and, as such, he belonged to nobody and answered to none. Which may explain why his entire training consisted of nothing more than being taught to react with the most violent and incandescent outrage whenever he came within earshot of the two words that he simply could not abide. The first was “cats” and the second was “Arsenal,” both of which could be pushed towards a mounting rabid hysteria simply by prolonging the S in them into a provocative sibilant hiss, at which he would rampage around the place in a frenzied hunt for the offending items. Clearly, he knew well enough what cats were (and, by extension, cats knew all about what Tucker was) but precisely what he was in such fervid pursuit of when it came to Arsenal remains a mystery to this day. He was no breed and many, including German Shepherd, which was also his size; a great lolloping stupid thing but with a big heart and a fundamentally gentle nature, though he was always prone to getting himself into bother of one kind or another. Some days he liked to hang around at the local girls’ school where there was sure to be some fun and games to be had, though it seems that the rules he played by were rather different to those of the girls, so they tended to get a tad sniffy about him spoiling things, mainly by running away with the ball as soon as he could get hold of it. Evenings, he quite liked to spend some quality time licking his parts, which involved loud, enthusiastic slobbering sounds, but if he noticed you watching at him, he would suddenly look extremely sheepish – you’d swear a dog could blush – and then instantly come and lick your face instead, by way of changing the subject. He was a lovable rogue, fond in memory still, and yet he was still the reason behind the Being Pushed Over the Wall Incident.

Meandering about locally one day, one could not help but notice when all at once a blurred streak of fur went shooting past, hotly pursued by the unmistakeable form of a demonic Tucker, who had, it would seem, persuaded yet another reluctant and hapless feline into indulging in a game of chase with him. The only escape for the imperilled moggie was to ascend the sheer face of the wall of a terraced house to the sanctuary at the top of a bay window, a gravity-defying feat achieved with some alacrity, as it happened. His work done, Tucker wandered off one way whilst we mooched away in another, the incident entirely forgotten by both. Just as a wall situated to perfection in the sunshine presented itself as the ideal spot to tarry a while and smoke, there came a hallooing from the distance:

‘Oi! You!’ called the voice.

It’s a sure sign, should you ever hear those particular words, that any premeditated relaxation is about to be curtailed. Which it was. Striding inexorably wallwards was what can only be described as a neanderthal thug. Not only that, but he also happened to be brandishing a large screwdriver in his not unsubstantial fist and looking rather put out about something or other.

‘My mother’s had that cat for eighteen years,’ he announced, rather brusquely, as he closed in.

‘It can’t half shift for an old ‘un, then,’ was the response that leapt to mind but, what with his weaponry and the scowling, it was considered better left unsaid.

‘I don’t want my mother being upset like that again,’ his harangue then continued, apostrophising every third word with a menacing flourish of the screwdriver. ‘If you let your dog chase that cat one more time, I’m going to have you. Do you understand? Well? Do you?’
Given the situation, the only course of action extant was to protest, not untruthfully, that “It’s not my dog,” but that merely provoked a request for one, ‘not to give him all that.’

‘But it’s not my dog.’

Wholly unmoved by this justified oratory, he then reiterated that the cat was eighteen years old and how, should anything untoward happen to said decrepit beast, some violent form of retribution would be instantaneously extracted.

‘So you keep that dog of yours under control in future. Or else.’

Once more, with the Biblical cock readying himself for crowing, came the denial. Which was true. If only he would stop waving that screwdriver around. That is not my dog.

That, of course, was when Tucker reappeared and came swaggering up, looking for a familiar face to lick …

Guy Fawkes Taken: Henry Perronet Briggs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Churchill: By British Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Scrooge Visited: By Soerfm (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Harry Houdini: By McManus-Young Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Head louse: By Gilles San Martin [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Robert Braithwaite: Photo by M.M. Mason

Christ Betrayed:  

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