These days, this word is found most often with seal. It is as though the joining of the lips at the m is the key enunciation, however brief it may be. It is often also found in reference to mystical, occult, new age or similar ideas and groups (the words Golden Dawn may come up). But, now, how do these come together, an airtight jar (or an envelope at an awards ceremony) and esoteric metaphysics? The form of the word seems to seal this mystery in. Does the her conduct us to the feminine yin of the dark, hidden, and interior? Yet a herm, for scholars of classical Athens, is a very masculine statue indeed. Is this word then hermaphroditic? Is the etic relevant, that word that anthropologists and linguists know as referring to the external expression, as opposed to the internal, paradigmatic, conceptual emic? Should this word be hermemic? What of the metic, sounding just like medic (to North Americans), with the overtones of sickness and guts? The h and m are cupped downwards, containing, and the e‘s have their little lassos, but the c just lets it all out at the end… Resonances of exotic and esoteric seem more concordant. The h must be from hidden, no? In fact, in the original Greek, it is somewhat hidden – or, more exactly, it is not a letter but a mere diacritic, a reverse-apostrophe-like sign of heavy breathing to start Ermes, which is to say Hermes. Wait, that mercurial god of caduceus (ah, medic!) and fleet foot? Well, actually, only to the extent that he was identified by the Neo-Platonists and other devotees of hidden mysteries with the Egyptian god Thoth, author of all mysterious doctrines. Specifically, this Thoth is Hermes Trismegistus, and Trismegistic is a synonym for Hermetic. So the hidden mysteries are hermetic. Things occult, concealed, are hermetic (but perhaps openable through the application of hermeneutic). A container sealed to prevent the passage of air and information is consequently, since the 17th century, also hermetic. Thus is the mystery revealed. So to speak.
Songs of Love and Grammar
Buy the T-shirt (or coffee bug or hip flask)
Wear it proudly:
I operate on a NEED-TO-KNOW basis. I need to know EVERYTHING.
Buy it at cafepress.ca/sesquiphernalia
Word Tasting Notes Google groupGet just the word tasting notes daily by email – join the Google Word Tasting Notes group.
I speak, too!I am available to do presentations on language and editing, and I can even lead a word tasting session for your group. For more information, contact me at an email address which is my first name (James) at my last name (Harbeck) followed by a period and the letters ca. (The preceding roundabout expression is for avoiding address harvesters for unwanted emails.)