Saturday, March 21, 2015

Word of the Day: expiate

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day is expiate :

1 : to extinguish the guilt incurred by

2 : to make amends for
M-W explains:
The word derives from expiare, Latin for “to atone for,” a root that in turn traces to the Latin term for “pious.” Expiate originally referred to warding off evil by using sacred rites or to using sacred rites to cleanse or purify something. By the 17th century, Shakespeare (and others) were using it to mean “to put an end to”: “But when in thee time’s furrows I behold, / Then look I death my days should expiate” (Sonnet 22). Those senses have since become obsolete, and now only the “extinguish the guilt” and “make amends” senses remain in use.
Expiate is for me a William Faulkner word. It’s prominent in Light in August (1932), where it’s used by the narrator (along with expiation ) and by two characters, both religious fanatics:
“To what I done and what I suffered to expiate it, what you done and are womansuffering aint no more than a handful of rotten dirt.”


He was lying so, on his back, his hands crossed on his breast like a tomb effigy, when he heard again feet on the cramped stairs. They were not the man’s; he had heard McEachern drive away in the buggy, departing in the twilight to drive three miles and to a church which was not Presbyterian, to serve the expiation which he had set himself for the morning.


She began to talk about a child, as though instinct had warned her that now was the time when she must either justify or expiate.


Again they stood to talk, as they used to do two years ago; standing in the dusk while her voice repeated its tale: “. . . not to school, then, if you dont want to go . . . Do without that . . . Your soul. Expiation of . . .”


The mind and the heart purged then, if it is ever to be; the week and its whatever disasters finished and summed and expiated by the stern and formal fury of the morning service; the next week and its whatever disasters not yet born, the heart quiet now for a little while beneath the cool soft blowing of faith and hope.
Expiate is one of a number of words that always recall works of literature in which I encountered them. Other such words:

Apoplexy, avatar, bandbox, heifer, sanguine, sempiternal : Artificer : Ineluctable : Iridescent : Magnifico : Opusculum

comments: 1

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., I’m mortified: I missed Publish and hit Delete, and your comment vanished. I’m sorry.