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In Love with Words

posted Feb 15, 2017, 11:51 AM by Colleen Getty   [ updated Feb 16, 2017, 5:19 AM ]

If you are reading this, chances are you like words. If you like words like I do, well—you like to learn new ones. How about hagiography? Maybe you already know the word hagiography. Well, good for you! I just met that word for the first time today and so instead of droning on about winter and how I loathe it or about love, which I am leading up to, I found a new word along the way.

Well, how did I stumble upon such a strange word and haven’t I learned every “–ography” word already? Let's linger around the “ography” part as it hearkens back to the days of writing implements (another good word) and in particular pencils and graphite. Oh, graphite. Really, our lovely language is just a matter of many little puzzles that can be pieced together by learning every other language in the world. Simple, right!? Our English language is really just a borrowing of so many different heads and tails and torsos of other interesting languages. Who needs technology when you have a sharp graphite pencil and words to play with.

So, to the “Hagi-“ part of the word. Although I will expose my slacker-style approach to writing, which I’m supposed to have my arms wrapped around in some form of ownership and as if I’m some kind of expert, I do not know every word in the English language. Not even close. Why would I want to? That would just go and spoil much of the fun of writing and reading and the endless discovery. I know that if the words in my cerebral Rolodex don’t work, there are others—so many others out there to go digging through and dusting off in order to identify that perfect word with just the right connotation.

At this point you are either geeking out or realizing that, perhaps, you didn’t like words quite as much as you thought you did and that there are people out there that really shouldn’t have access to words at all lest they end up a little too in love with language and blogging at needless length about words.

So, back to learning new things: “hagios” is Greek for “Holy.” “Hagiography” is the writing of the lives of the saints. Can you figure out which saint I went looking for? Why--St. Valentine of course. And, do you want to know what I learned about him? Next to nothing, which is why I’m carrying on about this new word I learned. Yeah, apparently there are a bunch of rumors about what this St. Valentine did and whether or not Valentine was even his name or merely a borrowing and joining of two different names. Sounds a bit like the word hagiography if you ask me.

Here I am—not complaining about winter. Here I am—not oozing about love. Empty-handed from my research except for the possibility that this fella, “Valentine” if that is even his real name, may have been marrying Christian couples, which was illegal at the time in good old 273. Let’s just say it didn’t go over well with the big cheese in charge: Claudius II. While Val was in prison, Judge Asterius, back before members of the court were referred to as “so-called judges,” had the sight of his daughter restored by Valentine. One thing led to another and everyone started to take a shine to this Val until he tried to convert Claudius II to Christianity and so it was off with his head.

These days we leave off the “St.” part of the name and just give chocolates and flowers to each other to commemorate this very confusing story that may or may not be true in honor of a guy whose name may or may not have been Valentine. Ahhh . . . love, with all its complicated nuances, is probably quite well represented by this highly confusing Valentine story. It just goes to show that if you go digging you will find something. It’s nice when it’s a treasure or something sparkly. It’s not so fun when it is a bunch of snow, like we have right now, or a bunch of “he said she said” like in the case of St. Valentine. The good news: we all learned a new word. Now, go try to work it into a sentence and impress your friends and loved ones.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day to words, with their interesting etymologies, and to those among us who love them so!