April 2019

chiliad

Nope, not a super-relaxed epic Greek poem (and the award for the most obscure joke ever goes to…). A chiliad is a noun for a group of a thousand things. You can also use it for years – so it’s a somewhat poncy alternative to ‘millennium’ (and also works in that Robbie Williams song, if you sing it slowly). ‘Chiliad’ is actually older than ‘millennium’, and first appeared in the late 1500s, whereas the m-one (I have trouble spelling it, so I’m not typing it again) didn’t turn up in written English until the following century. Unsurprisingly, both words come from other words for ‘thousand’ – ‘chiliad’ from the Greek word ‘chilioi’, and ‘millennium’ (I copied and pasted it that time) from the Latin ‘mille’.

There’s also a thing called ‘chiliasm’, which is nothing to do with orgasms, sorry – it’s a religious belief that before the final judgement, we’ll get a paradise or golden age on Earth (it’s safe to say that doesn’t look like it’s happening any time soon). And if you’re one of those religious people, then you’re ‘chiliastic’.

Sadly, chiliad is actually pronounced with a hard ‘c’ – think ‘cat’ or ‘Cillian Murphy’ (because it’s always nice to think about Cillian Murphy). This obviously makes it less fun, as it no longer sounds like it’s related to ‘chillax’, which is why I’ve left it til the end to tell you that.

catafalque

A catafalque’s a raised box or platform used to support a coffin, casket or dead body at a Christian funeral or memorial service. If someone super-famous dies and then gets to lie in state (so people can pay their respects/check out their dead bod), the thing the body is on is called a catafalque.

Sources can’t seem to agree where the word itself comes from. It might be from ‘catafalco’ which is an Italian word for ‘scaffolding’, although that seems a little bit disrespectful to the deados. The OED basically says it doesn’t know (which is useful). I presume the ‘cat’ bit probably shares its origins with ‘catacombs’. This comes from the Latin word ‘catacumbas’, the name of an underground cemetery near Rome.

Believe it or not, there are a couple of quite famous catafalques. You can even go and see one of them – the Lincoln catafalque, which was built in 1865 for Abraham Lincoln’s casket. This is described on Wikipedia as ‘hastily constructed’. If it’s anything like any of the flatpacked furniture I’ve put together over the years, this doesn’t bode well for it supporting the weight of anybody’s body. But whoever built it apparently had access to more tools than just a free B&Q Allen key, as it’s still standing. Over the years it’s played host to several ex-prezs, including JFK, both Hoovers, Eisenhower and Reagan. There’s more on the Lincoln catafalque here.

Interesting fact alert: generally speaking, you can only lie in state in a government building. If you’re displayed anywhere else, then you’re ‘lying in repose’.

I realise I might have misused the word ‘interesting’ there, sorry.

hubris

Right, confession time – when I was younger I thought ‘hubris’ was a good thing. I was a bit vague on what that was, but I was under the impression that it was positive. It was only in the fairly recent past that I realised it’s not (see also: ‘acrimonious’ – for ages I thought all those people going through ‘acrimonious’ divorces were having lovely, civilised break-ups. WRONG).

Anyway, as I’m sure you’re much cleverer than me dear reader, you probably already know that hubris describes the quality of extreme pride or over confidence. It’s often applied to people who are so full of their own self-importance that they’ve lost touch with reality. (There are so many world leaders, both past and present, I could use as examples here. Instead I’ll just leave it to you to fill in the blank.)

The word ‘hubris’ comes to us from Greek. It meant something different originally – it referred to someone getting pleasure from carrying out a crime or similar action that humiliated their victim. Due to a linguistic mix-up, some Greek poets, possibly Aeschylus or Hesiod, changed its meaning to refer to pride so great it offended the gods (apologies for being a bit vague here, but it’s quite a long boring explanation which you won’t care about – trust me).

Here are some famous examples of hubris in literature.

  • Icarus – Daedalus, Icarus’ dad, designed and built the Cretan labyrinth for King Minos, who then imprisoned them in it (which seems a bit out of order, Minos). They escaped using wings made of wax that Daedalus invented. Despite being able to build a FREAKING LABYRINTH, Daed apparently didn’t think to tell his son that wax melts in the heat, only not to go too high. Icarus didn’t take any notice of his pa (because, hubris) and flew too close to the sun. And you know the rest.

  • Oedipus – he tried to defy a prophecy from the gods that said he’d kill his dad and boff his mum. Even though it seems a bit mean, this apparently counts as hubris (the prophecy defying, not the patricide and incest – the gods actively encouraged that). He was punished for this by accidentally doing both those things anyway. Ouch.

  • Lucifer – the whole ‘I’m-better-than-you-dad’ thing didn’t end well for Lucifer (assuming being king of hell counts as a punishment which depends on your point of view, and which TV shows you’ve watched – I’m looking at you ‘Lucifer Morningstar’).

  • Dr Strange – portrayed by Benedict Cucumberpatch in the Marvel movie, Steven Strange thinks he’s the best neurosurgeon in the world. His arrogance leads him to have an accident which ruins his hands and means he can’t operate any more. To be fair, he then *SPOILER ALERT* goes on to become an all-powerful wizard who can manipulate time and space, so it’s not all bad.

  • Victor Frankenstein – god knows we’ve all wanted to build a man at one point or another, but this hubristic idea never ends well, as Vic can attest to after his monster murders most of his friends and family. This also applies to Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He may have been a sweet transvestite, but ‘making a man, with blond hair and a tan’ also proved to be his downfall.

Oh, I almost forgot – the word ‘hubris’ itself might have come from the name of a minor Greek goddess called Hybris, who was the deity of insolence, violence and outrageous behaviour. I bet she’d be a riot at a party.