or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Smear Campaign

Comptoir Sud Pacifique makes really terrific scents: I have a bunch of them and would probably have more if they sold them in Moncton and also if I didn't already own more fragrances than I can use up in the next hundred years or so (at least forty, plus a gazillion samples), and there are new ones all the time and I'm only human, I try to show some self-restraint but it's a losing battle, it's like some people and shoes, which I don't care a lick for, I just wear the ones I have until they're battered into shreds and then I buy more.

Ahem. Anyway. I was just reading about a CSP scent (one I don't own) called Aqua Motu that contains, among its other notes, helichrysum. Well: a single glance tells you it's Greek; anything that contains the letters "-chr-" is. But more on that in a second. If you pry "helichrysum" apart you can see that the first half is "heli", clearly related to "helix" and "helicopter"; it means "spiral". The second half (I've been on about it before) is familiar from "chrysanthemum"; from "khruso" or "chryso", "golden". So helichrysum is a flower that's a golden spiral, which seems like a pretty good description of this picture.

Now, if any English word containing "-chr-" is Greek in origin, how about the word "christ"? It sure is. It's from "khristos", "anointed", and so "christ" literally means "the anointed one". If you are very, very particular, you will not say "Jesus Christ", since the second half of it is an adjective and not a surname; you will say "Jesus, the Christ". But hardly anybody does this any more, in the same way that hardly anybody uses "The Reverend" as a form of address, or what used to be called the style; they say "Reverend Smith", even though it properly ought to be "The Reverend Mister Smith", since "Mister" is the title and "The Reverend" the style. But who makes that distinction any more? (Well, I do, predictably enough.)

I always find a way of getting off track, don't I? One last fascinating byway; English "christ" is also related to "chrism", which refers to an oil used for anointing. French, as I have noted before, contains a number of words that use the circumflex to denote a once-present, now-vanished ess. French once had a variant of "chrism", "chresme", which eventually altered its spelling into "crême", the source of our "cream". English "anoint" and also "ointment" come to us (via a tangled series of changes) from Latin "unguere", "to smear", also the source of "unguent". How wonderful that the superficially unrelated "ointment", "unguent", and "cream" turn out to be so intricately intertwined.


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