comely, kimet

English – like many other languages – is beautiful and strange, both attractive and intractable, graceful and confused, pleasant and foolish, comely and kimet. You can’t have one without the other, not any more than a coin can have heads without tails.

You know the word comely, of course: ‘beautiful, attractive, graceful, pleasant’. A word for someone who is nice to look at, or – less often now – for an attractive inanimate thing. Through the wicked perversity of the English language it has become an antonym of homely, which looks like it differs only as /k/ differs from /h/ but actually has a different vowel on the o. A late learner of English might reasonably wonder, going by these two words, whether the imperative “Come home” means things are going to be pretty ugly.

But comely is not related to come – well, not by direct etymology; there has undoubtedly been some cross-influence. Its origin is in the Old English cyme, which was said rather like “cue meh.” That word meant ‘weak, delicate, fussy, beautiful’ – I think ‘fine’ might fit too. Its sense of delicacy led to a sense of refinement and prettiness, and it gained the adjectival –ly suffix that you also see on ugly and leisurely to become, over time, comely.

But like a soul that has wandered into two directions in different realities, or like a person who cannot reconcile two divergent tendencies – Jekyll and Hyde or, frankly, just about anyone to some degree if you really admit it – cyme also followed the ‘delicate’ sense in the direction of ‘weak, feeble’ and from thence went to ‘feeble-minded’ and thence to ‘strange, intractable, confused, foolish’ – or, to be concise, ‘daft’. Its verbal form seems to have developed a past participial cymed that the warping of time made into kimet, said like a rhyme of “rhyme it.”

And so here we are, and they may meet at a bar, comely and kimet, and not even talk to one another, or perhaps fall madly in love with one another, or first one and then the other (or – one hopes not – vice-versa), not knowing that they are two sides of the same coin, two sprigs off the same root. Beautiful strangers in paradise. Such is the kismet of English.

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One response to “comely, kimet

  1. Pingback: comet | Sesquiotica

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