Monday, March 30, 2009


concupiscible [kŏn-KYOO-pĭ-sə-bəl]
adj. worthy of being desired; provoking lustful desires

[From Latin concupīscere ("to desire strongly"), from com- ("in association with") + cupere ("to desire")]

It's surprising to me that as pornographic and semi-pornographic images have become commonplace in modern society and clothing has become more revealing, a great word meaning "provoking lustful desires" remains as uncommon as concupiscible is. I don't know of any exact synonyms for it. Words like sexy, hot and desirable can be used for concupiscible, but none has that singular emphasis of provoking lust, the way concupiscible has. Yiddish has a nice word to describe a sexy woman, zaftig, but again that lacks the sense of provocation. Lustful and libidinous describe the traits of the person who lusts, not the features of the person who is the target of that desire.

In his famous sermon, The Image of God in Man, published 200 years ago, Robert South contrasted the Stoic view of what was sinful in man with the examples of Jesus, "who took upon him all our natural infirmities, but none of our sinful, has been seen to weep to be sorrowful to pity and to be angry:"
Now, though the schools reduce all the passions to these two heads: the concupiscible and the irascible appetite; yet I shall not tie myself to an exact prosecution of them under this division, but at this time, leaving both their terms and their method to themselves, consider only the principal and most noted passions from whence we may take an estimate of the rest.

In Act V, Scene 1 of Measure for Measure -- the last scene in the play -- William Shakespeare has Isabella give "the gift of (her) chaste body" to save the life of her brother, Claudio. Isabella describes the lust of Angelo, who holds Claudio's fate in his hands, as provoking lustful desires:
In brief, to set the needless process by,
How I persuaded, how I pray'd, and kneel'd,
How he refell'd me, and how I replied,—
For this was of much length,—the vile conclusion
I now begin with grief and shame to utter:
He would not, but by gift of my chaste body
To his concupiscible intemperate lust,
Release my brother; and, after much debatement,
My sisterly remorse confutes mine honour,
And I did yield to him: but the next morn betimes,
His purpose surfeiting, he sends a warrant
For my poor brother's head.

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