Cephalogenic

or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Name:
Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Obscurity

I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that if you're going to use in writing a word that is likely to be unfamiliar to most of your readers, and furthermore is entirely indecipherable, it's only fair to define the word in the text.

In this New Yorker article about the estate of James Joyce and its control by Joyce's only living relative we find the following two sentences:

Stephen is a handsome man of seventy-four, with a gray beard, sloping forehead, and deep-blue eyes—he looks the way Joyce might have looked if he had not smoked and drunk himself to death, at fifty-eight, in 1941. Stephen sometimes walks with an ashplant, just as his grandfather did.

A what? An ashplant? Is it a kind of a plant, or is it...well, what is it? Perhaps the article was written for people who've read Joyce or at least have read enough about Joyce to have come across this word before, but I hadn't, and it threw me.

Answers.com, my usual source for a quick look-up (that is, when I don't want to get up from my chair and consult the OED), doesn't list it. Googling it gives a welter of links, and fortunately, one of them is fruitful, although it wasn't where I might have expected to find the answer. This page, with what amounts to guitar tablatures only for fiddlers, contains this helpful note:

An ashplant was the name for a common implement among farmers and drovers of cattle in Ireland, made from a sapling of an ash tree. The root ball would be trimmed to a knob which fit easily in the hand, and the length trimmed into a switch. It would be applied to the hide of the buttocks of an animal as a means of motivating and steering them. The implement has been known to be employed in brawls on fair days, grasped at the opposite end with the knob then the business end!

Clear, (fairly) concise, and vivid; all we could ask for in a definition. Why, it's positively Johnsonian.

3 Comments:

Blogger Rory said...

Yep. I saw the "common implement among farmers" entry as well, but I also found YOURS! Being somewhat lower-down on the erudition scale, I found your entry most helpful. By the way, why would one "sometimes walk" with one of these -- is Stephen Joyce a farmer or drover of cattle?? Oh yeah, one other thing -- in Africa this sort of stick is also called a "knobkerrie" -- an Afrikaans word.

Monday, July 03, 2006 8:42:00 AM  
Blogger Rory said...

Sorry -- that reference to "erudition" was speaking about myself, NOT your entry.

Monday, July 03, 2006 8:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That would be stephen dedalus

Monday, June 15, 2009 8:26:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home