18 April 2007

waesucks for the late-night paper writer

a couple nights ago i was up late working on a final paper about Latin interjections and their use in one of Terence's comedies. the first part of the paper was devoted to grouping the interjections based upon their semantics and looking for any commonalities they may have. i was dealing with the set of interjections representing "woe, grief, or dismay" (which in fact, do have some interesting phonological features: most of them contain diphthongs and none of them contain obstruent consonants). one of the three Latin interjections in question was vae. since i had just used the word woe a few sentences prior, i headed to the OED to verify my sudden hunch that the two are in fact cognate.

one of the points i made in a footnote of my paper is that English woe is a bit more productive than Latin vae because it is no longer strictly an interjection, but has gained new life as a noun. apparently, woe had quite an interesting life in the early history of English, when it was very productive, combining with other words.

the absolute best of these, in terms of sheer entertainment value? waesucks!

if waesucks hadn't died out and instead had gone on through the sound changes which altered the two morphemes which comprise it, in modern English we would have some word woesakes. as it is, the word appears not to have made it to the 20th century (but is attested as late as 1867). that, i'm afraid, is the 20th century's loss. some other fun facts:

  • it's pronounced just like it looks: [wesĘŚcks]
  • waesucks appears to select a CP as its complement, and in the examples which the OED cites this CP is always headed by for
  • both WAESUCK and WAESUCKS are good in Scrabble, so remember that the next time you see ACEKSUW on your rack

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