Saturday, 6 February 2010

Carminative


Carminative is a terribly useful word. You, dear reader, have two options: skip down to the bottom of the post for a definition, or read this whole lovely passage from Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley. (I've put in a page break: just click on the read more below).

"One suffers so much," Denis went on, "from the fact that beautiful words don't always mean what they ought to mean. Recently, for example, I had a whole poem ruined, just because the word 'carminative' didn't mean what it ought to have meant. Carminative--it's admirable, isn't it?"

"Admirable," Mr. Scogan agreed. "And what does it mean?"

"It's a word I've treasured from my earliest infancy," said Denis, "treasured and loved. They used to give me cinnamon when I had a cold--quite useless, but not disagreeable. One poured it drop by drop out of narrow bottles, a golden liquor, fierce and fiery. On the label was a list of its virtues, and among other things it was described as being in the highest degree carminative. I adored the word. 'Isn't it carminative?' I used to say to myself when I'd taken my dose. It seemed so wonderfully to describe that sensation of internal warmth, that glow, that--what shall I call it?--physical self-satisfaction which followed the drinking of cinnamon. Later, when I discovered alcohol, 'carminative' described for me that similar, but nobler, more spiritual glow which wine evokes not only in the body but in the soul as well. The carminative virtues of burgundy, of rum, of old brandy, of Lacryma Christi, of Marsala, of Aleatico, of stout, of gin, of champagne, of claret, of the raw new wine of this year's Tuscan vintage--I compared them, I classified them. Marsala is rosily, downily carminative; gin pricks and refreshes while it warms. I had a whole table of carmination values. And now"--Denis spread out his hands, palms upwards, despairingly--"now I know what carminative really means."

"Well, what DOES it mean?" asked Mr. Scogan, a little impatiently.

"Carminative," said Denis, lingering lovingly over the syllables, "carminative. I imagined vaguely that it had something to do with carmen-carminis, still more vaguely with caro-carnis, and its derivations, like carnival and carnation. Carminative--there was the idea of singing and the idea of flesh, rose-coloured and warm, with a suggestion of the jollities of mi-Careme and the masked holidays of Venice. Carminative--the warmth, the glow, the interior ripeness were all in the word. Instead of which..."

"Do come to the point, my dear Denis," protested Mr. Scogan. "Do come to the point."

"Well, I wrote a poem the other day," said Denis; "I wrote a poem about the effects of love."

"Others have done the same before you," said Mr. Scogan. "There is no need to be ashamed."

"I was putting forward the notion," Denis went on, "that the effects of love were often similar to the effects of wine, that Eros could intoxicate as well as Bacchus. Love, for example, is essentially carminative. It gives one the sense of warmth, the glow.


'And passion carminative as wine...' was what I wrote. Not only was the line elegantly sonorous; it was also, I flattered myself, very aptly compendiously expressive. Everything was in the word carminative--a detailed, exact foreground, an immense, indefinite hinterland of suggestion.

'And passion carminative as wine...'

I was not ill-pleased. And then suddenly it occurred to me that I had never actually looked up the word in a dictionary.


Carminative had grown up with me from the days of the cinnamon bottle. It had always been taken for granted. Carminative: for me the word was as rich in content as some tremendous, elaborate work of art; it was a complete landscape with figures.

'And passion carminative as wine...'

It was the first time I had ever committed the word to writing, and all at once I felt I would like lexicographical authority for it. A small English-German dictionary was all I had at hand. I turned up C, ca, car, carm. There it was: 'Carminative: windtreibend.' Windtreibend!" he repeated. Mr. Scogan laughed. Denis shook his head. "Ah," he said, "for me it was no laughing matter. For me it marked the end of a chapter, the death of something young and precious. There were the years--years of childhood and innocence--when I had believed that carminative meant--well, carminative. And now, before me lies the rest of my life--a day, perhaps, ten years, half a century, when I shall know that carminative means windtreibend.

'Plus ne suis ce que j'ai ete
Et ne le saurai jamais etre.'

It is a realisation that makes one rather melancholy."

"Carminative," said Mr. Scogan thoughtfully.

"Carminative," Denis repeated, and they were silent for a time.

"Words," said Denis at last, "words--I wonder if you can realise how much I love them."

If something is carminative it makes you fart.

2 comments:

  1. Fabulous! I do enjoy this blog rather a lot. And here is an obscure word that even my children might have occasion to use.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Antipodean15 June 2010 14:14

    'And passion carminative as wine...' lovely!

    I'm torn between reclaiming carminative as Denis intends it - really, who would know? and it's lovely in that incarnation - and the layers of meaning it imparts to this phrase.

    'And passion carminative as wine...'

    Heh.

    ReplyDelete