Saturday, March 07, 2015

Word of the Day: Rachitic

context: Karamallah has taken up residence in the family mausoleum because the Egyptian authorities are watching his home. He’s not alone in the cemetery. Mostly because of poverty, the cemetery is well populated with the living.

The cemetery was stagnating in a precarious calm … Occasional bursts of lamentation from the hired mourners … could be heard in the overheated air, like the echo of unspeakable suffering. … An old man with a white beard dragging a rachitic donkey at the end of a rope passed in front of the mausoleum and greeted Karamallah with a slight nod befitting an exiled monarch. … Karamallah [was disturbed by] the donkey’s gaze; it was both dejected and accusing, as if Karamallah were the one at the root of its downfall.

This is the sort of word I usually don’t look up. It is defined sufficiently by context that I don’t feel I’m missing much by not turning to the dictionary. Turning to the dictionary is such a bother, especially when you end up being told what you’ve already figured out. So I’m going to tell you that I have copied out the contextual passage and I have written up to this point without having turned to the dictionary. I might as well guess what the dictionary is going to say. Rachitic means skinny and/or diseased-looking, undernourished, perhaps aged.

definition (according to Miriam-Webster): rickety

Rachitic specifically refers to rickets, the disease. Which makes me realize I never knew what I was metaphoring when I said something looked “rickety,” that is, as though it were about to fall apart.

How did I do? What I learned from the dictionary was not the definition — my guess was perfectly adequate — I learned that the word evokes the ravages of a specific disease, rickets, and that rickety is another way of saying rachitic. I didn’t need to know this stuff, but it makes a DIR post!

source: “The Colors of Infamy” by Albert Cossery, translation by Alyson Waters, which appears in Two Lines, no.18: Counterfeits, edited by Luc Sante & Rosanna Warren, published by the Center for the Art of Translation

No comments: