Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Now, this is the sort of thing that’s so minor, even charming, that making any kind of deal out of it seems silly, especially since the topic of the book in which this thing appears is a totally serious (in fact, awfully depressing) topic. Among the Great Apes is Paul Raffaele’s account of visiting the regions where the remnant great ape populations are barely holding out – war-torn Africa mainly, where the chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas scrape by, but also the aggressively exploited forests of Borneo where the orangutans are running out of trees.

When I came across the word “stripling” in Raffaele’s book I recognized it as one of the age categories James Davidson discusses in his The Greeks and Greek Love, a book I’d recently worked my way through (it’s long!). A stripling is a youth, a teenager. Age categories were very important to the Greeks.

Raffaele, however, uses “stripling” to mean something entirely different. Sapling, maybe. Slender branch? At first I thought it was just an accidental misspelling of “sapling.” But then he did it again. And in this passage Raffaele does it twice:

“The silverback’s nest resembles an oval throne, fashioned from branches he has snapped to form the foundation, and with a layer of vegetation woven with striplings and leaves to make it soft and springy as a cushion.” A silverback gorilla is the leader of the gorilla family, the patriarch. Nearby are the nests of the females and youngsters. “The two-year old is still practicing nest building and has snapped and bent some striplings together and added a few leaves for comfort.”

By context you know no gorilla is snapping or bending or weaving together youthful human males. But I wasn’t able to find any other definition of “stripling” in a dictionary. Raffaele, by the way, does also know the word "sapling" and uses it elsewhere.

No comments: