Words To The Wise

I’m beginning to receive a lot of press releases promoting events and products. Whether or not these announcements might be of interest to you, I do not make a habit of posting the majority of them because my blog is not a public broadcast station and I do not consider myself to be a news service with a capital N as in The News, even when that news is entertainment-related. At those times when I am writing for “the press,” I do consider myself to be a journalist, and no matter what the outlet, I do hold myself to journalistic standards when writing nonfiction, but DevraDoWrite is a blog, and as such it is no more and no less than a platform for my thoughts and ideas, which hopefully hold some modicum of interest or entertainment value for you, my readers. Why else would you be here?

You might then wonder why I post the occassional press release and review the random CD, performance or movie. Usually it is because the annoucement has triggered some related thoughts that I wish to explore and share. Sometimes my discourse is right on point, but often times, like today, it is merely tangential. Today’s case is vocabulary-driven, truly an act of simple curiosity aroused by a press release from the USAF Band regarding “Acapella Music of the Empyrean.” I love coming across words that are new to me, and empyrean was an unfamiliar word.

“Acapella Music of the Empyrean featuring Members of The Singing Sergeants” is the title a December 9th concert that is part of The United States Air Force Band Chamber Players Series held at Anderson House Museum (2118 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.). This free concert starts at 1:30 p.m. but because I live on the left coast and have no plans to be in D.C. next month, rendering me unable to attend, listen, and learn, I turned to an alternative source of enlightenment: the Internet.

Looking it up in the Word of the Day Archive, I found the following definitions and examples:

empyrean \em-py-REE-uhn; -PEER-ee-\, noun:
1. The highest heaven, in ancient belief usually thought to be a realm of pure fire or light.
2. Heaven; paradise.
3. The heavens; the sky.

1. Of or pertaining to the empyrean of ancient belief.

She might have been an angel arguing a point in the empyrean if she hadn’t been, so completely, a woman.
— Edith Wharton, “The Long Run”, The Atlantic, Feburary 1912

In the poem — one he had the good sense finally to abandon — he pictured himself as a blind moth raised among butterflies, which for a brief moment had found itself rising upward into the empyrean to behold “Great horizons and systems and shores all along,” only to find its wings crumpling and itself falling — like Icarus — back to earth.
— Paul Mariani, The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane

In my experience, the excitement generated by a truly fresh and original piece of writing is the rocket fuel that lifts Grub Street’s rackety skylab — with its grizzled crew of editors, publishers, agents, booksellers, publicists — into orbit in the empyrean.
— Robert McCrum, “Young blood”, The Observer, August 26, 2001

Empyrean comes from Medieval Latin empyreum, ultimately from Greek empurios, from en-, “in” + pyr, “fire.”

Wikipedia says empyrean can mean several things, and definitions range from the biblical to the brewery:

* In Christian theology, the Empyrean (also called the heavenly rose, or the mind of God) is the name of the highest heaven.
* In Paradiso, the final book of The Divine Comedy, the Empyrean, based on the above, is the abode of God.
* In Asheron’s Call, Empyrean refers to a race of highly intelligent humanoid beings inhabiting the planet Auberean.
* In Digital Devil Saga, Empyrean Halo is a powerful attack spell, the name referring to the heavenly rose in The Divine Comedy.
* Empyrean Brewing Company is a brewery located in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Although I do ponder the merits of using words that require readers to have a dictionary at hand, I am nonetheless on the perpetual quest to expand my vocabulary. To that end, I subscribe to a weekdaily email from wordsmith.org that serves up a word with definitions and sample uses, each week’s offerings being thematically related. Sometimes the words are new to me and on occassion I make a note to add one to my vocabulary list. A few weeks back the theme was words about books, and here are three of those words:

auctorial (ok-TOR-ee-uhl) adjective

Pertaining to an author

[From Latin auctor (author, creator), from augere (to create). Ultimately from the Indo-European root aug- (increase) which is also the source of auction, authorize, inaugurate, augment, august, auxiliary, and nickname (“a nickname” is a splitting of the earlier “an ekename”, literally, an additional name).]

fascicle (FAS-i-kuhl) noun

1. Part of a book published in installments. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary was published in fascicles.

2. A bundle. For example, a bundle of nerve or muscle fibers, or a bundle of leaves.

[From Latin fasciculus, diminutive of fascis (bundle).]

The word fascism is related. It refers to the Latin fascis (a bundle or a group) and also to the emblem adopted by Mussolini: a bundle of twigs that was carried as a sign of the power of a magistrate in ancient Rome.

hornbook (HORN-book) noun

A primer.

[From horn + book. In earlier times, a hornbook was a book containing the alphabet or other material for children. Though it would be stretching the definition of book by the present standard — it had a wooden paddle with a handle that held a paper with learning material protected by the transparent layer of a cow’s horn.]

See pictures of hornbooks here

By the way, WordSmith.org is also the home of the Internet Anagram Server that I had so much fun with early in my blogging days — Raison D’Etre (Monday May 02nd 2005), Word Trips (Friday July 08th 2005), and Caveat Lector Dictionaria/Encyclopedia (Tuesday September 27th 2005).

And in case you are wondering, the purpose of today’s tour-de-words is not to warn you off of sending me press releases. Au contraire. I love to read them, never knowing what serendipity-dowrite might stike. When my little gray cells are sufficiently stimulated, you’ll read about it right here. So stay tuned and keep in touch.