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ultramontane (ul-truh-mon-TAYN) adjective

1. Of or pertaining to people or region beyond the mountains.

2. Supporting the Pope's authority over the Roman Catholic Church in all countries.


1. One who lives beyond the mountains.

2. One who favors papal supremacy.

[From Medieval Latin ultramontanus, from Latin ultra- (beyond) + mont-, mons (mountain).]

"Adopting the sort of tone you use with recalcitrant pets or unruly children, the government makes no concessions. This is par for the course on reform of the Commons, where chief whip Ann Taylor and ultramontane Margaret Beckett, leader of the house, have been veritable forces of conservatism." David Walker, Executive Powers: Modernise is Still One of the Government's Favourite Words, The Guardian (London), May 29, 2000.

Once in my life I was a Cleveland Indian. I boarded a plane at the New Delhi airport and landed at my destination, Cleveland, to attend a graduate school at Case Western Reserve University. Soon after arriving, I discovered the picturesque vast expanse of Lake Erie to the north of the city and learnt that we were North Shore residents. Or were we?

Lake Erie separates the city of Cleveland from Canada. Upon visiting Canada on the other side of the lake I discovered that the folks there also claimed to be on the North Shore. And I realized they were right, since Cleveland actually lies on the South Shore of the Lake. Now, try telling that to countless business owners in Cleveland who have named their enterprises "North Shore Computers", North Shore this and North Shore that.

Well, I guess it's all relative. It all depends on what side of the fence or pond one is on. And the same is true with ultramontane. First it was applied by the Italians, rather contemptuously, to those living north of the Alps, such as the French and Germans. Later, the tables were turned on them, and those on the North began calling Italians ultramontane. Now it could be anyone living on the other side of a mountain, a foreigner, or an ultraconservative.

A straightforward looking word, and what a history it packs in those four little syllables! This week we'll look at a few other terms with Italian connections, words of various shapes and sizes from the land of pizza and pasta, and Michelangelo and Da Vinci. -Anu


What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness? -Jean Jacques Rousseau, philosopher and author (1712-1778)

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