or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Straw Poll

In a recent posting on Pharyngula we find the following paragraph:

Vacuous nonsense, air and fluff, excuses and evasions, nothing at all. Those seem to be our choices in this widely spread argument: the ridiculous anthropomorphic personal entity of the Rick Warren majority, or the etiolated and pointless vapor of the theological intellectuals. Common inanity vs. rarefied insipidity. The Lucky Charms leprechaun vs. invisible fairies in the garden.

He spells "rarefied" correctly, which of course I love (the ugly and wrong "rarified" is gaining ground every day, it seems), but he also uses the wonderful word "etiolated". Isn't that something? Not a word you hear every day, unless you hang around Bill Buckley, who probably manages to use it half a dozen times before breakfast.

"Etiolated" means--and this is a marvellously specific thing for a word to mean--"bleached, weakened, and/or withered from lack of exposure to sunlight". It refers specifically to plants (think white asparagus, which is regular old green asparagus that's been buried during growth so the chlorophyll can't develop), but as you can see from the metaphorical use above can also be used to refer to people and ideas.

Here's the entirety of Answers.com's etymology of "etiolate":

French étioler, from Norman French étieuler, to grow into haulm, from éteule, stalk, from Old French esteule, from Vulgar Latin *stupula, from Latin stipula.

("Haulm" is "the stems of peas, beans, potatoes, or grasses.")

"Stipula" is the Latin word for "straw", and it sure does call to mind the word "stipulate", doesn't it? (The verb "stipulate", that is, not the adjective meaning "having stipules".) But Dictionary.com has this to say about "stipulate":

Traditionally said to be from L. stipula "straw," in ref. to some obscure symbolic act; this is rejected by most authorities, who, however, have not come up with a better guess.

Likewise, the OED says "stipulate" is "of doubtful origin", and proposes a couple of distant possibilities. Sometimes an etymology can fool you, but honestly: how could "stipulate" possibly not have bumped heads with "stipula" at some point?

Either way, you may be pleased to learn that "stipula" is the source word for "stubble".


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