or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, March 21, 2008

Rock Out

I was reading an article today in the new issue of Harper's, and the word "dilapidated" showed up, a word which, as often happens, caused me to seize up short, because I realized that I had never really considered it before and didn't know where it might have come from.

It was obvious, in a surface way, that the core of the word had to be related to "lapis" and "lapidary", which is to say a stone of some sort. But try as I might, I couldn't make any sense of it: how does a word meaning "having fallen into ruin" have anything to do with stones? Was it because untended stone buildings fell into heaps? But wasn't that true of every other kind of building, and really everything else, too?

Very well, then. If not stones, then...what?

Stones, of course. The word, simply enough, comes from Latin "dilapidatio", "disrepair", just as in English: and that word comes from Latin "lapidatus", which gave English a little-used word, "lapidate", with the same meaning: "to pelt with stones".

Aha! Something dilapidated wasn't, originally, merely something that had fallen apart: it was something that had been deliberately and perhaps maliciously brought to a state of decay by a rain of stones, and isn't that a vivid thing to think about?


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