Daily Archives: December 10, 2008


A word for those things that get “oh dears” from us. The opening o is well suited to the moue of disgust most appropriate for this word – accompanied by a contraction of the nostrils (perhaps from looking like d to more like i, as the o‘s of the eyes glare balefully on either side). And, indeed, this word may be said with the nose firmly pinched shut. The hiss at the end adds to the effect. This word has nothing to do with odes (unless bad) or odours (ditto); it is not necessarily onerous, either, but that does seem likely, doesn’t it? Readers of Garfield may think first of a long-necked nitwit dog; users of drugs may be stopped by the first two letters (or, when said, syllables). Students of international law may know odious debt as a theory holding that debt should not be enforceable if incurred by a regime for purposes that don’t serve the nation’s best interests. (Apply that theory to personal debt and many a credit card loaded with booze tabs and impulse shopping binges would be wiped clean.) Fans of clerihews may know the noun from which this word is derived, as the first known clerihew declares “Sir Humphrey Davy / Abominated gravy. / He lived in the odium / Of having discovered sodium.” And what is odium? In Latin, hatred; it comes from the verb odisse, “hate,” which comes from the Indo-European root od-, from which various words of hate have come. If you find this all a bit of an odyssey, well you may; odyssey comes from Odysseus, whose name is said to have come from his being hated by gods and men. And no doubt many an unwilling student of classics has found the Odyssey odious too.