One Word Each Day Pages

Friday, April 14, 2017

58. Excelsior | Learn One Word Today

{Letters ~ 9 l Syllables ~ 4}
{Scrabble score ▪ 18}

🅽  Excelsior, a Latin word often translated as "ever upward" or "still higher."

A faint cloud with shooting smoke comes through


🅽  fine curled wood shavings used especially for packing fragile items.
-higher : Motto of New York.

Etymology of 'Excelsior':
Latin excelsior "higher," comparative of excelsus (adj.) "high, elevated, lofty," past participle of excellere "rise, be eminent" (see excel). Taken 1778 as motto of New York State, where it apparently was mistaken for an adverb. Popularized 1841 as title of a poem by Longfellow. As a trade name for "thin shavings of soft wood used for stuffing cushions, etc.," first recorded 1868, American English.

Blogger's Note:

'Excelsior' came to this Blogger's attention by way of Google Books. While perusing the search giant's free literary collection, I discovered a small journal published by the Rowfant Club.  The Rowfant club us a very exclusive literary brotherhood based out of Cleveland, Ohio. The book, entitled Some Remarks Concerning Mr. Longfellow's Excelsior, is one of those little gems you rarely come across in life, it is also without doubt the most humorous poetic deconstruction I have ever read. The anonymous author berates Longfellow, and his poem 'Excelsior,' going as far as to rewrite the poem to suit his (the anonymous author's) own literary tastes. 

At first I assumed that the critique was pure satire. I now suspect however, that it may be part of a more developed and organized strategy to invert the term 'excelsior.'  I've spoken of word magic and inversion before: one of the more stunning examples being the spell having been cast upon 'metamorphosis.' 

When and why 'excelsior' came to signify wood shavings rather than the transcendent meaning popularized by Longfellow is unclear.  But these sort of transformations should come as no surprise, especially to readers cognizant of other terms that suffered inversions during same time period.  
Post a Comment