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A.Word.A.Day--aufklarung

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aufklarung (OUF-klay-roong) noun

The Enlightenment.

[German : auf, up (from Middle High German uf, from Old High German.) + Klarung, a making clear, from klaren, to make clear, from Middle High German klaeren, from klar, clear, from Latin clarus.]

"The idea that a profanity, especially one that was used as more than a casual expletive, could be used as a - pardon - legitimate verb was to me something of an Aufklarung, an enlightenment." Jon Hahn, A Deposit From Mr. Ed Pays Garden Dividends, Seattle Post - Intelligencer, Oct 26, 1999.

If memory serves me right, Caesar described the Germanii as a large, hardy, ferocious people who inhabited the gloomy forests to the east of Gaul, wore hardly any clothes and were perpetually on the move. Well, if he were able to have a look around the seashores of Spain, Portugal or Italy today, he might say exactly the same thing, although this time around the context would be rather more peaceable. The descendents of those redoubtable forest-dwelling savages are probably the world's number-one travelers today, still gripped by an extraordinary wanderlust that sends them to the four corners of the earth in apparent flight from the serious, orderly and slightly boring society they have constructed for themselves in their geopolitical sandwich between the Latins to the west and the Slavs to the east. The Germans have done a lot of fighting and a lot of thinking about that sandwich over the centuries since Caesar reported on them, and the words that have entered the English language from their experience frequently reflect those military and intellectual struggles: they are light on things like play, gastronomy, fashion and frivolity but top heavy in philosophy, political thought and struggle in general: serious, consequential stuff. If these words tend to be a little ponderous and hard to pronounce, they are marvelously apt expressions of what could never be expressed so well if our English tongue just minded its own business and never wandered abroad to steal from others. -Rudolph Chelminski (rudychelminski@compuserve.com)

(This week's Guest Wordsmith, Rudolph Chelminski, is an American freelance writer living in France.)

X-Bonus

Men are men before they are lawyers, or physicians, or merchants, or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men, they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers or physicians. -John Stuart Mill, philosopher and economist (1806-1873)


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