losel

This word has a tidy near-symmetry. The l’s bookend or bedpost it – perhaps arms in the air, or bare banners or sticks or burnt-out torches. But doesn’t it look like one of the letters should be different? Perhaps swap in an r?

To make lorel? Certainly. Lorel and losel are synonyms, and the pronunciation is the same except for the middle consonant (losel is said like “low-zl”). They’re both formed from the past participle of leese. A more familiar form may be the actual participle, loren or lorn.

You know? As in lovelorn?

That means someone who has lost love. Lorn means ‘lost’ or ‘bereft’. Leese means ‘lose’. Someone who is lorel or losel, or who is a lorel or a losel, is lost. I don’t mean that they’ve had a GPS malfunction. I mean they are a ‘lost soul’, lost to the powers of perdition. They are worthless, a scoundrel, a blackguard, a sellout, not to be relied on for anything good. They have dedicated their life to damaging others for their own profit or perversity.

In short, a losel is someone you and I would probably call a loser.

Oh, yes, there’s that r swapped in, probably where you were expecting it in the first place. We tend now to see life as a game that we are supposed to play to benefit ourselves and others. If someone treats others badly – as objects from whom to take without consideration, for instance – we often call them a loser, even if they have objectively gained considerable wealth (which is often treated as evidence of winning), because they have lost our respect, and because we entertain the idea of defeating them. In some cases people have aligned themselves with causes that justly lost legal or military conflicts over their inhuman treatment of others, effectively joining a club of obvious literal losers, but in other cases they have simply made careers of depradation, and whether or not they have yet been convicted of anything, we all know they deserve to be.

But in past times the worldview in our culture was dominantly one of a celestial contest between the forces of good and evil (never mind that the determinations of what was good and what was evil were often made for strongly human reasons by strongly human persons whom most of us now would not esteem). It wasn’t a question of whether the person had won or lost the game of life; it was one of whether Satan and his sirens – perhaps I should say his Loreleis – had succeeded in tearing the person away from the righteous path and towards the pit. Not “You played badly” but “You were badly played”; not “You are a loser” but “You are a lost one – a losel, a lorel.”

It also opens the idea of winning them back, while at the same time not implying that winning is the most important thing – being won is.

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