Wednesday, July 23, 2008


word of the day: joss

context: Our narrator is visiting “friend Chang [in] San Francisco …

He lit a joss-stick long and black.
Then the proud gray joss in the corner stirred …

The great gray joss on the rustic shelf,
Rakish and shrewd, with his collar awry,
Sang impolitely, as though by himself …
‘Back through a hundred, hundred years
Hear the waves as they climb the piers,
Hear the howl of the silver seas,
Hear the thunder!
Hear the gongs of holy China …’”

definitions: “an image or statue representing a Chinese deity” – MS Word dictionary

“In the European view of Chinese mythology, Joss is a household deity and his cult image, which the Portuguese and other Europeans called an ‘idol’. Joss is not Chinese, but originates from the Portuguese word deos ‘god’.” -- Wikipedia

joss stick “incense in the form of a stick of dried paste” – MS Word dictionary

source: Vachel Lindsay’s “The Chinese Nightingale”, Prize Poems, 1913-1929 (1930) edited by Charles A. Wagner; Bonibooks


David Lee Ingersoll said...

Huh. I encountered the word in book now forgotten. A story (true if I'm remembering correctly) of travel in Asia. I remember the author define joss as fate. I remember it so well I've never thought to check to see if I was wrong.

Which I guess I am.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Fate. God. ... difference?

I usually don't look up unfamiliar words. The spate of words-of-the-day here at DIR is just another one of those Hey I Could Do That On DIR It's Got To Do With Reading So What The Heck things. Context is typically good enough for me. Looking up the word seldom tells me much more than I'd already figured out. But I did like that joss/deus bit. I can totally see it. Joss is a pretty good phonetic transcription of the Portuguese pronunciation of Deos.