Monday, 27 February 2012

Comfort and discomfiture

I’m reading Stephen Fry’s The Hippopotamus and each time I pick up the book, I am reminded of the alternative pronunciation used for a while by one of our boys – hippo-pompamous. We must have been saying pompous a lot at that phase of family life.... living as we were amongst expatriates and development ‘experts’.

As so often happens with good writing, I was taken by a passing phrase that made me think: this time, about the origin of a word...

I read, “.. Albert’s skills as a healer... lay in no more than the ability to comfort, to comfort in the proper sense, to make strong, to fortify.”

I pulled out my trusty Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and confirmed that this is indeed the first definition of comfort, which made me further ponder on how much as a practising doctor I should aspire to comfort my patients.

Then of course – and this is the delight of using a book to check such things rather than an on-line dictionary – my eyes strayed into the adjacent word: comfit. I was surprised to learn that this has a different route. A comfit is a sweet, a sugar-coated almond, which for me puts a different slant on the word discomfiture.

Ah the joy of exploring words....

Jane's messy desk

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