Know Your Words · Loner's Dictionary

It’s about Time!

Engraving by John Byddell of Truth, “the daughter of time” being led out of the darkness by Time, which “revealeth all things. A vomiting demon labeled hypocrisy threatens her. (Image in public domain)

It’s been more than a month since my last post in this virtual space. What have I been doing? Well, first and foremost, I moved. That took a lot of time (so many trips back and forth from the old place to the new! Ugh). As for the rest of it, I … I … don’t have any idea. I did, however get an idea: hence this post about the word time.

The word time, as I’m sure you’re well aware, can refer to many things. To make sure we’re all on the same page, I’m using the word to mean, “the period between events or during which something exists, happens, or acts; a measured or measurable interval.” (Thank you, Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language.)

Okay, so that’s how I’m using it, but where does this word come from? The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories offers the following explanation:

Old English tima, of Germanic origin, is related to tide, which it superseded in temporal senses, leaving tide to refer to the movements of the sea. The earliest of the current verb senses (dating from the late Middle English) is ‘do (something) at a particular moment.’

As usual, the (Ayto) Dictionary of Word Origins offers another opinion.

Time originally denoted ‘delimited section of existence, period.’ Its ultimate source is the Indo-European base *di- ‘cut up, divide.’ This passed in prehistoric German as *ti- (source of English tide), and addition of the suffix *-mon- produced *timon – whence English time and Swedish timme ‘hour.’ The application of the word to the more generalized, abstract notion of ‘continuous duration’ dates from the 14th century.

And as usual, both of these explanations pale in comparison to the expert information one finds in Eric Partridge’s Origins, which begins by explaining the link between tide and time.

1. The tides of the sea were so names from their occurrence at regular times: the basic sense of tide (Middle English tide, earlier tid) was ‘time,’ hence a definite time, an opportune time, as in ‘Time and tide wait for no man.’

“Time smoking a picture” (William Hogarth). Image in public domain

2. Time … is akin to Old Norse timi. It is therefore clear that, already in Old Norse and Old English, time and tide were doublets: they have the same root, but different suffixes: the Old Germanic root is *ti-, corresponding to an Indo-European root *di-, comes from Armenian ti, time, and the Sanskrit goddess Aditis (a-, ‘not’ + ditis), ‘the timeless, hence eternal, one’: perhaps also comes from Sanskrit dayate, he divides, he apportions, and Greek daiomai, I divide or apportion ….

So there you have it: from the time on the clock that divides up your day, to the tides of the ocean giveth and taketh away, to the Gods and Goddesses of divide and apportion everything, ourselves included. And to think I was just trying to come up with a clever way of apologizing for not having posted in a while. Mind blown.


Fascinating as it is, I find it interesting that none of these origin stories mentions Latin tempus, source of the English temporal and extemporaneous. Latin does rear its head, however, in the saying, “time flies,” which the Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins (FFEW&FO) describes as:

An old workhorse of a phrase that goes back at least to the Latin tempus fugit, meaning the same, which in turn was suggested by a phrase in the Roman poet Virgil’s Georgics that translates: “Irretrievable time is flying!”

The FFEW&FO also lists a few other time-related phrases worth adding to your conversational repertoire:

Time, gentlemen, please! – A British barman’s reminder that the pub will be closing.
Time heals all wounds – uttered by Hippocrates
Time wounds all heels – uttered by Frank Case (owner of the Algonquin Hotel in NYC)
Time to whistle up the dogs and piss on the fire – Cowboy slang for it’s time to go.



Dictionary of Word Origins (Ayto)
Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins
Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English
Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories
Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language





Know Your Words · Loner's Dictionary

The Daimon: Guardian Angel or Evil Seed?

Spirit guide
Dante and his spirit guide

On my recent vacation, I read James Hillman’s famous work, The Soul’s Code, in which he talks about the daimon, or the idea that, “The soul of each of us is given a unique daimon before we are born,” and that this companion of the soul exists to help each one of us recognize what we are called to do and adhere to it. As he explains further:

For centuries we have searched for the right term for this “call.” The Romans named it your genius; the Greeks, your daimon; and the Christians your guardian angel. The Romantics, like Keats, said the call came from the heart, and … the Neoplatonists referred to an imaginal body, the ochema, that carried you like a vehicle. It was your personal bearer or support. For some it is Lady Luck or Fortuna; for others a genie or jinn, a bad seed or evil genius. In Egypt, it might have been the ka or the ba with whom you could converse. Among the people we refer to as Eskimos and others who follow shamanistic practices, it is your spirit, your free-soul, your breath-soul.

Whether or not you can accept this idea is not the point of this blog entry. Rather, I’d like to focus on the word itself, for as Hillman oddly confesses, although “these many words and names do not tell us what it is, they do confirm that it is.”

You’d think that Hillman, a smart guy, would offer a rock-solid definition of a word that plays such a central role in his book, but he doesn’t. How can this be?

Perhaps the texts populating the shelves of the Lonely Reference Library have something to say about this mysterious and antiquated word.

Daimon Defined:

The Oxford English Dictionary defines daimon as “one’s genius or demon,” while the editors of the Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, who abandon the Greek spelling in favor of daemon, define the word as (in Greek mythology), “any of the secondary divinities ranking between the gods and men; hence, a guardian spirit; inspiring or inner spirit. A demon; devil.” The Oxford Latin Dictionary also uses the spelling daemon, but omits the evil and defines the word as “a supernatural being or spirit.”

Guardian angel
Guardian angel

The etymological dictionaries at my disposal seem somewhat more discerning and tend to split the word in half, separating the light from the dark if you will. For example, the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, which lacks an entry for daimon or daemon, explains the roots of demon this way:

demon [Middle English] This is from medieval Latin, from Latin daemon, from Greek daimon ‘deity, genius’; the English sense ‘evil spirit’ is from Latin daemonium ‘lesser spirit,’ from Greek daemonion. The spelling daemon was common from the mid-16th century until the 19th century.

The (Ayto) Dictionary of Word Origins sings a similar tune.

demon English acquired this word from Latin in two forms. Classical Latin daemon and medieval Latin demon, which were once used fairly interchangeably for ‘evil spirit’ but have now split apart. Demon retains the sense ‘evil spirit,’ but this was in fact a relatively late semantic development. Greek daimon (source of Latin daemon) meant ‘divine power, fate, god.’ … It was used in Greek myths as a term for ‘minor deity’ and it was also applied to a ‘guiding spirit,’ (senses now usually denoted by daemon in English). It seems to be from this latter usage that the sense ‘evil spirit’ arose.

Daimon Mythology

Oddly enough, this notion of dividing the daemon/daimon into good and evil halves fits nicely with the mythology surrounding these mysterious creatures and may explain why they’re described in terms of both darkness and light (i.e., a guardian spirit and a devil). As explained by the Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Religion, Literature, and Art, these creatures were widely seen as “intermediaries” between the gods and humankind and, in doing the bidding of deities, played both good and evil roles. Thus, those that got involved in people’s lives were but one type of a larger class of daimon.

“Another kind of daemones are those who were attached to individual men, attending them, like the Roman genius, for their birth onward through their whole life. In later times, two daemones, a good and bad, were sometimes assumed for every one. This belief was, however, not universal, the prevalent idea being that the good and bad alike proceeded at different times from the daemon of each individual; and that one person had a powerful and benevolent, another a weak and malevolent daemon.”

Then again, as suggested by the Continuum Dictionary of Symbols’ (CDS) matter of fact tone, the definition of daemon/daimon has such great latitude because there was simply no consensus on the benevolence or malignancy of these mythical beings.

Demon – From the Greek “daimon.” The term was originally used to describe gods and later referred to mediary beings between gods and humans who could influence human destines and cosmic events for good or evil.

A tidy and satisfying summation of my attempt to better understand the term daimon it is not, but I can live with it. Besides, given the shitty job my “guiding spirit” seems to be doing, this explanation from the CDS seems to be the most accurate of them all.

Loner's Dictionary · LRL Achive

Silence Is Golden … Isn’t It?

“Speech is silver, silence is golden,” says the proverb, but after looking into the word, I’m not so sure. This isn’t just a trivial matter. If you spend as much time alone as I do, you get used to it and, eventually, begin to prefer it to, especially when the choice is quiet or small talk.  Clearly, this is a minority opinion, for in my experience, when you opt for the former over the latter, people start to think there’s something wrong with you. (And maybe they’re right.)

Not surprisingly, this negative take on silence rears its head in definitions of the word. Consider, for example, the following list of definitions for silence from the Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language.

1. The state or fact of keeping silent; a refraining from speech or the making of noise.
2. absence of any sound or noise; stillness
3. a withholding of knowledge; omission of mention: as in, we noted the author’s silence on that point.
4. failure to communicate, write, keep in touch, etc.
5. oblivion or obscurity

Is it just me, or do things start to head south with the third definition? To see if this is a trend, I consulted another source, the American Heritage Dictionary, which defines silence this way.

1. The condition or quality of being or keeping silent; avoidance of speech or noise.
2. The absence of sound; stillness.
3. A period of time without speech or noise.
4. Refusal or failure to speak out; secrecy.

There it is again! How do we get from “without speech or noise” to “secrecy”? And I didn’t even include to use of silence as a verb, as in “to make silent” or “to suppress”!

To get a better idea of where this suspicion of the silent comes from, I hit the etymology texts. Alas, they were on no help.

The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories had little to say beyond silence comes from the Latin word silentium, which comes from silere, ‘be silent.’ (It also says the phrase “Silence is golden” comes from the early 18th century. [Not the proverb?]).

SilentiumThe (Ayto) Dictionary of Word Origins doesn’t have an entry for silence, but it traces silent back to the same Latin words. It goes on to add that, “it seems likely to be related in some way to Gothic anasilan, a verb which denoted the wind dying down and, perhaps, Latin desinere ‘stop’ (in which case the underlying meaning would be ‘stop speaking.’)”

Origins, the “Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English,” (which isn’t short at all), takes things a step further. It too traces silence back to silere, which it interprets as “to say nothing, keep quiet,” and links the word to both ana-silan, ‘to  fall silent,’ and the Norse sil, meaning ‘standing or quietly flowing water.’

Calming winds, standing or quietly flowing water … these are nice things. Surely the cold eye often cast upon the quiet must come from somewhere! Then it hit me, maybe this mistrust of the silent has more to do with the uneasy feeling some people (I’m looking at you extroverts) experience in silent environments.

According to the website, there is a word for this fear of silence: sedatephobia. According to the site:

“To some people, silence can be downright scary. There is term for this phobia: Sedatephobia. The word originates from Greek ‘Sedate’ meaning ‘silent or sleeping or dead’ and Phobos meaning the Greek God of fear, or dread or aversion. The phobia was relatively unheard of 50 years ago. However, today, it is … fairly common.”

Well maybe. I couldn’t find anything any other reputable sources on sedatephobia. It wasn’t mentioned in any of my psychology dictionaries* and the only other website I could find that acknowledged this “fear of silence” was and it didn’t give the malady a fancy name. (It just referred to the problem as “the fear of, or anxiety caused by, silence.”)

To be clear, I am not suggestion that everyone who prefers inane conversation to silence suffers from sedatephobia (or whatever it’s called). On the contrary, people are social animals and, clearly, some of those animals need more socializing than others. In fact, the only real issue here is, do they have to have their conversations around me?


* Supplemental Information

Although I couldn’t find anything in my psychological dictionaries about sedatephobia, I did encounter a few related terms in the Psychiatric Dictionary:

Eremiphobia – The fear of a lonely place or solitude.
Eremophilia – The morbid desire to be alone.
Eremophobia – The fear of being alone.

Loner's Dictionary · LRL Achive

The Patron Saints of Hermits

Temptation of Saint Anthony (Bosch)

Last time, I shared a few thoughts on the word lonely and how it’s (lazily) related to, yet quite different from the word alone. I even got into what it means to be alone (and lonely) in your dreams! There was, however, something about the lonely that I have neglected to mention: they have patron saints!

At least I think they do. It’s not entirely clear. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Saints (which, oddly enough, doesn’t contain a definition of saint as far as I can tell), there are no patron saints of the “lonely,” but there are patron saints of “hermits.” Given that hermits choose to live alone (yet recognizing that alone and lonely are not the same thing), I figured “close enough.” (How’s that for lazy?)

So who are these saints of the hermit set? Here’s the run-down according to the ODS:

Antony of Egypt – He sold all of his possessions at the age of 20 and went to live among local ascetics. From 286 to 306, he lived in complete solitude in a deserted fort as Pispir. Here he underwent “a series of temptations usually associated with the hermit life” [?]; at the end of this period, he left solitude to guide the disciples who had gathered around him. Later in his life, he moved to Alexandria, where he was reported to have worked miracles.

Giles – Not much is know about this guy, but the ODS says that he lived as a hermit near the mouth of the Rhone River. Injured in a hunting accident, he later became the patron of (and I quote) “cripples, lepers, and nursing mothers.” In England, “162 ancient churches” and “at least 24 hospitals” were dedicated to him.

Temptation of Saint Hilarion (Tassaert)

Hilarion – The son of pagan parents in Palestine, Hilarion went to Alexandria to study and became a Christian. He visited Antony at the height of his fame, then returned to Palestine where he discovered his parents were dead. In response to the news, he sold all of his stuff and then became a hermit at Majuma. His austerity drew crowds and he is said to have preformed miracles. To escape the masses, he moved on to Dalmatia. Eventually, his fame caught up with him and he went on the move again. He landed in Cyprus, where he lived the rest of his life. He died at the ripe old age of 80.

In addition to these fellows, there is another saint, Gemma Galgani. Although she is not counted among the patron saints of hermits, she is associated with loneliness — although not by ODS. On the contrary, her link to the lonely comes from a website that characterizes her as “The Saint Who Knew Loneliness,” so I thought I’d include her here.

Gemma Galgani (note the stigmata)

Galgani – Orphaned at the age of 18, Gemma Galgani wanted desperately to become a nun, but the convent of her choice wouldn’t accept her due to “a series of illnesses.” Word on the street is that she “experienced to the highest degree the isolation of loneliness” as a result this rejection, yet she kept it together and remained obedient and patient, and became renowned for her “heroic poverty.” (On the freakier side of things, she was said to occasionally experience the stigmata and also appeared to suffer diabolical possession.)


Additional and or Supplementary Info:

1.) Um, What’s a Saint?

In general, a saint, according to the Basic Catholic Dictionary, is:

“Any person known for Christian holiness; [or] in the strictest sense, a person who has manifested heroic virtue during his or her life and who is officially honored by the Church as one who has attained heavenly glory and as one through whom God freely chooses to exhibit exceptional generosity.”

Whew, that’s a mouthful. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church offers a better, more straightforward definition (of sorts): “The practice of venerating and invoking the saints … rests on the belief that the saints are both close to God (because of their holiness) and accessible to man (whose nature they share).”

2.) Okay, So What’s a Patron Saint?

Put simply, a patron saint is a “saint looked upon as a special guardian of a person, place, or institution” (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language) or “the guardian saint of any nation, place, craft, activity, or person” (American Heritage Dictionary). For what it’s worth, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church agrees and offers nearly the same description as the American Heritage.

The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature agrees as well, but has a lot more to say on the subject. For example, it is within its pages that we learn the word patron goes back to Roman times, where it was used to characterize a relationship in which “a Roman citizen, desirous of a protector, might attach himself to a patron, whose client he thenceforward became….” The patron, the book goes on to say, “was the guardian of his client’s interests, public and private; as his legal adviser, he vindicated his rights before the courts of law. The client was bound, on various occasions, to to assist the patron with money….”

If you’re wondering what all of this has to do with saints, keep going ….

“Patron, in time, came to be a common designation of every protector or powerful promoter of the interests of another; thus also the saints — who were believed to watch over particular interests of persons, places, trades, etc. acquired in the Middle Ages the designation of patron saints.”

Now you know.

Know Your Words · Loner's Dictionary · LRL Achive

I’m Back … and “Lonely”

“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
– Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau: alone, but not lonely

The mother-in-law-related interference I mentioned in my previous post has run it’s course and I’m back at it. However, if there was an up-side to being away for that week or so, it was that being away from this blog gave me a little time to think about my reference library, this blog, how they fit in to my present state of affairs and what I want to accomplish.

The result of all that thinking was a subtle name change — what was once the Anachronist Reference Library has now become the Lonely Reference Library. It was the right move, and not only because the word “anachronism” doesn’t exactly mesh with blogging. The other reason behind the name change is that I spend an awful lot of time by myself, which I suppose makes me something of a loner, but not necessarily lonely, which has a rather somber ring to it. Be that as it may, the “Loner Reference Library” didn’t sound quite right, so I went with “lonely.”

It is in that spirit, that I thought I’d start this new era by examining the word lonely in my customary way. To the dictionaries!

To my surprise, the Oxford English Dictionary defines lonely in more ways than I anticipated.

1. (Of persons, their actions, conditions, etc.) Having no companionship or society; unaccompanied, solitary, lone
2. (Poetical) Of things: Isolated, standing apart; lone
3. (Of localities) Unfrequented by men; desolate
4. Dejected because of want of company or society; sad at the thought that one is alone; having a feeling of solitariness b.) (poetical) Imparting a feeling of loneliness; dreary.

Obviously, when speaking of things or place, there is little question as to what lonely means. Things get a little more complicated, thought, when you apply it to humans. Thus, to see if a little more knowledge might light my way, I reached deep into the LRL’s stacks and checked some other dictionaries.

To my surprise, they did. The Webster’s School and Office Dictionary from 1914 included the word “retired” with its definition and the Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language offered the curious phrase “longing for friends,” which is something quite different from “want of company or society.”

Clearly, when describing people, the aforementioned sources deem alone and lonely to be synonymous, but are they? A self-professed loner (like me) might object, saying that when he or she spends time alone (i.e., unaccompanied), he or she is not necessarily lonely ( i.e., “longing for friends” or feeling “dejected because of want of company or society”).

To further complicate matters, I typically feel loneliest (in the sad, dejected use of the term), when I’m standing in a room full of people I don’t know and don’t feel up to the small talk (why yes, I am an introvert). In these instances, I don’t suffer from a “want of society,” but rather a want of escape.

Oddly enough, this co-mingling of alone and lonely may have an etymological justification, at least according to the (Ayto) Dictionary of Word Origins, which says “Lonely is a derivative of lone, itself a truncated form of alone.” Even more interesting is that, as the text goes on to say, the term alone is “simply a compound of all and one” and that, in Old English, it was a completely separate phrase, all ana, literally, “completed by oneself.” I don’t know about you, but that has a rather positive ring to it. So much for feelings of dejection.

Most surprising of all, perhaps, is that the most nuanced assessment of loneliness in my library comes not from Oxford or Websters, but (Cheung’s) Dream Dictionary from A to Z:

Dreams about being alone often refer to the solitary life you might be leading, but they can also refer to those time when you need to strike out in a new direction, separating yourself from your friends and family in a non-social context. To dream that you are alone in a crowd may imply that you are isolated from those around you, while being alone in a landscape may suggest that you prefer to make decisions by yourself. A dream of being an astronaut on a solitary space walk may refer to deep feelings of being alone or going it alone. If you dreamed you were alone in a garden or in the countryside, a more tolerable — even pleasurable — form of solitude may be being referred to. Finding  yourself alone as a child is a powerful image of loneliness, emotional vulnerability, and feeling lost.

So are alone and lonely  synonymous? Not when they’re applied to human beings, for as noted above, one can be alone but not lonely, or conversely, lonely while standing in room full of people. Or to put it another way, while being alone and feeling alone mean different things in different contexts, those who are lonely and feel lonely are experiencing the same thing–a want for companionship–regardless of other factors.