or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, October 27, 2005


I got a new computer today and I can say without a trace of hyperbole that it is the most beautiful machine ever manufactured. Just look at it! It looks like a big iPod! The entire computer fits inside the monitor case! It has a four-button scroll mouse with only one button (and that the size of a freshwater pearl)! It's sleek and elegant and perfectly quiet (no cooling fan) and I'm in love.

But anyway.

Words come to me and usually I find myself wondering where they're from or what other words they're related to--how they came into the language and what other traces they've left. But a couple of days ago at work, a word popped into my head--where, of course, I had no chance to look it up--and the problem wasn't that I didn't know where it came from; the problem was that I had no idea at all what it meant. (Which is to say that, yes, words simply appear in my head at any time for no reason, and yes, I do learn words and then forget their meanings. Sometimes.) So I was stuck at work for hours and hours, playing this word over in my head and trying not to.

The word was "velleity". It hardly even looks like an English word, let alone one that's related to any other English words. What could it be related to? "Vellum"? "Well"? "Valley"? "Villain"? I was completely at a loss. After mulling it over, I wasn't even sure it was a word any more.

It is, and the meaning, as it turns out, is "mere will", which is to say "the desire to do something without any effort towards doing it". (Remember it whenever you read one of those lists of amazingly specific words from other languages.) It's from Latin "velle", "to wish". And it has cousins in English, of course; you can usually play with "v" and "w" and you can always play with vowels, and so "velle"/"velleity" is in fact related to English "will", sensibly enough. I don't suppose it's a word you or I will use much, but it's a word.


Blogger Frank said...

Congrats on the new computer! So you're a Mac cultists, eh? (That's what Mac people are, cultists.) It IS a beauty, though.

I love "velleity." I totally have to remember that one.

Thursday, October 27, 2005 11:02:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

I gladly concede that the cult of Mac is just that, a cult, and you can call me a votary. I've had only Macintosh computers for the last twelve years, and if they ever stop making them, I don't know what I'll do. (Do without, I suppose. Not switch to Windows, that's for damn sure.) I've had five Macs and two iPods and they all still work--the first of the Macs is doubtful (it was donated to a school and I've lost track of it), but all the rest are still in perfect working order. The new one certainly is.

Friday, October 28, 2005 5:28:00 AM  
Blogger Tony Pius said...

That's odd. You see, I subscribe to "A Word A Day," and you'll never guess what today's word is.

To quote John Candy's character in Heavy Metal, "Wow! Eighteen years of nothin', and now -- twice in one day!"

And don't worry about Macs going away. Cupertino's boffins are busily recoding OS X to run on Intel hardware, which will be around long after we're all gone.

Friday, October 28, 2005 3:30:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

Well, if that isn't a fine coincidence, I don't know what would qualify. I check out the OED's word of the day to see if it's something I've written about (or am in the process of writing about), and it never is, so I'm glad to see that I synchronized with some other word-of-the-day. Synchronized? Hell, I beat them to it!

Friday, October 28, 2005 11:44:00 PM  

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