Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ghat


ghat [got]
n. a broad flight of steps that is situated on an Indian riverbank and that provides access to the water especially for bathing

[Hindi, derives from Sanskrit ghatta ("embankment")]

My eternal image of India is not the Taj Mahal or Mahatma Gandhi in diapers or a Hindu god. What pops into my mind when I think of that land of 1.1 billion people is a teeming mass of noisome humanity -- dirty, crowded streets with endless traffic; sweat-soaked trains packed to the brim; hundreds of women in saris huddled together washing clothes in filthy rivers. Even with half or a third of its current numbers, India would be overpopulated. It's a place devoid of privacy. In America, even in New York or San Francisco, we can get away from others outdoors. Or we can disappear into the privacy of our own homes, the calm of a bath or a shower. In India, great ghats are built to permit thousands of people easy access to rivers, like the holy Ganges, so they can bathe. The ghats are also used by Hindus to launch small funeral pyres, where they cremate their dead.



In Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg describes an experience he had with his fiancé in 1966, while on vacation from his duties in Vietnam, on India's most famous river:
We went out on the Ganges in a small boat past the burning ghats where bodies were cremated.


3 comments:

Jeremy Ogul said...

Can you do saccharine as a word of the day? The "cloyingly agreeable or ingratiating" definition?

Lexicon Artist said...

Thanks for the inquiry, Jeremy.

One thing I suspect is that for younger people -- say under thirty -- the word saccharine is less familiar than it is for older people. I think -- but I'm not 100% sure of this -- that saccharine was the first synthetic sweetener developed to replace sugar. As such, its importance in the broader lexicon grew, and took on new uses, such as the one you suggest.

However, now that we have a large number of other competing synthetics with well known brand and chemical names -- products that I suspect are more widely in use than saccharine -- people are growing up without so much exposure to the product, and thus less inclined to employ that word metaphorically.

Stay tuned. If I learn anything interesting about saccharine, I'll post it.

Lexicon Artist said...

I've now got a little more information about saccharine in the figurative sense of the word, having looked it up in the OED. It's not interesting enough (to me) to post it as a Word of the Day. But I will use this thread to share with you what I know.

According to the OED, the first reference to saccharine as a figurative term meaning "sweet" came in 1841 in Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Essays." The essay in which it appeared was called "Prudence." This is the line:

"One might find argument for optimism in the abundant flow of this saccharine element of pleasure in every suburb and extremity of the good world."

Emerson was the only writer to use saccharine figuratively for "sweet" -- he did so a few more times -- until Oliver Wendell Holmes employed it that way in an essay called "How Men Reason" in 1858.

It was not until 1933 where Punch, a British weekly humor magazine, used saccharine to mean overly sweet (perhaps what you meant by "cloyingly agreeable"):

"Here is actually a Viennese film based not on copious draughts of The Blue Danube (with sugar), but on the crisper life which must presumably exist in that city, even in defiance of the saccharine mirage which appears to be the fondest of Hollywood's illusions."

For reference, here is the entire OED selection, which gives you an idea of saccharine's figurative evolution:

5. fig. Chiefly in playful or sarcastic use: Sweet.
1841–4 Emerson Ess., Prudence Wks. (Bohn) I. 95 The abundant flow of this saccharine element of pleasure in every suburb. 1858 O. W. Holmes Aut. Breakf-t. (1865) 31 You will be saccharine enough in a few years. 1863 W. P. Lennox Biog. Remin. I. 179 A saccharine smile beamed upon the royal countenances. 1872 M. Collins Two Plunges I. v. 98 Those sweet, soft, saccharine sylphs. 1890 Spectator 1 Feb. 169/2 Too saccharine, is our short judgment on these poems. 1933 Punch 16 Aug. 178/1 Here is actually a Viennese film based not on copious draughts of The Blue Danube (with sugar), but on the crisper life which must presumably exist in that city, even in defiance of the saccharine mirage which appears to be the fondest of Hollywood's illusions. 1934 C. Lambert Music Ho! ii. 106 Such a saccharine melody as ‘None but the Weary Heart’. 1951 Essays in Crit. I. iii. 289 The saccharine honeymoon by the seaside. 1955 W. Gaddis Recognitions ii. ii. 370 A saccharine line drawing of a woman. 1970 K. Millett Sexual Politics ii. iii. 92 It was enough for him to rely on sentiment, a vague nostalgia about the heroic middle ages, and saccharine assertions about The Home. 1976 Amer. N. & Q. XIV. 147/2 The parable is saccharine and simplistic. Its sentimental treatment+asks for the cheap pity of melodrama and offers too easy a solution.