Friday, November 25, 2011

Did you know? The hidden story of words... 1 - Horror

What follows is a brief discussion on the origins of the English word "horror"; an assignment in research and citations. Enjoy...

English forms of “horror” originate during the Hundred Years’ War. Its etymology borrows the Old French spelling “(h)orrour” for at least the first 100 years, but alters its Latinate of physical  reactions: “bristle... shudder”[1] to a psychological response to fear[2]. It is unknown whether this is a French etymological development or a weak translation. However, since the recorded use of “horrible” precedes “horror” in the poetry of Mannyng[3], it can be suggested that noun and adjective have informed each other.
This “shuddering with terror and repugnance”[4] is settled within the English language. Brief transferences into nautical[5] and alchemical[6] do not weaken or colloquialise the term. Neither does its appropriation as reverential fear and awe, which draws on the etymology of “awful” (as seen in Pope’s Iliad translation[7]), since this is soon obsolete.

The transferred sense from personal to projected horror (following “horror’s” introduction into the language) as early as 1413[8], remains throughout the word’s timeline. It becomes a dysphemism for places, things and people, as evidenced in Ulysses[9], becoming synonymous with the waxworks of Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors[10].
In a medical sense, the Latinate etymology returns within 200 years as a symptomatic description of disease – we may take it for fever, as expressed in Phillips’s New World of Words[11] – before being interjected into conversations in the late 1800s in a mostly over-dramatic manner, as per the writing of Troubridge[12]. The psychology of horror though, developed further into a colloquialised description of mental ill-health[13] which found itself linked euphemistically with the medical term for alcoholic withdrawal: “delirium tremens”.

[1] "† horre, v.". OED Online. September 2011. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 01, 2011).
[2] The Wycliffite Bible (early version) · a1382
[3] Robert Mannyng · Handlyng Synne · 1303
[4] "horror, n.". OED Online. September 2011. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 01, 2011).
[5] The Annual Register · 1758–
[6] Elias Ashmole · Theatrum chemicum Britannicum, containing severall poeticall pieces of our famous English philosophers, collected, with annotations, by E. Ashmole · 1652.
[7] Homer · The Iliad of Homer (transl. Alexander Pope) · 1st edition, 1715–1720 (6 vols.).
[8] The Pilgrimage of the Soul · 1483–1500
[9] James Augustine Aloysius Joyce · Ulysses · 1st book edition, 1922 (1 vol.).Paris: Shakespeare and Co; Dijon: Maurice Darantiere
[10] William Makepeace Thackeray · The history of Pendennis · 1st book edition, 1848-1850 (2 vols. publ. in parts). London: Bradbury and Evans, 11, Bouverie Street
[11] The new world of words; or, universal English dictionary (ed. John Kersey) · 6th edition, 1706 (1 vol.).
[12] Laura Elizabeth R. Troubridge · Life amongst the Troubridges · 1966.
[13] Oliver Goldsmith · The good natur'd man · 1st edition, 1768 (1 vol.).

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