Tuesday, 7 December 2010


Groping after self-improvement, I happened to read this:

To set cross leg'd, or with our fingers pectinated or shut together is accounted bad, and friends will perswade us from it. 

It's at times like this that you know who your friends are. I have none. For had I a true friend, they would have told me of my errors, and comforted me with the word pectination. It derives from the Latin for comb, for reasons that may be guessed. Indeed, Thomas Browne exported the term straight from the words of Pliny.

It's amazing to think that I have been pectinating all my life without ever knowing it: amazing and a trifle humbling. It's rather like the day that I discovered that I had a philtrum. I had always known that there was a little groove leading from my nose to my mouth, but had I been asked what it was called I would have panicked and answered "Snot-wadi?"

(A wadi, dear reader, is an Arabic term for a desert riverbed that is only filled when there's a storm).

Learning that that little groove above my lip was called a philtrum was therefore terribly reassuring. It's rather like finally discovering the name of the chap behind the counter in the grocery store (so long as he's not called Snot-Wadi).

Browne continues his discourse on pectination thuslyly (veneficious means poisonous):

The same conceit religiously possessed the Ancients, as is observable from Pliny. Poplites alternis genibus imponere nefas olim; and also from Athenæus, that it was an old veneficious practice, and Juno is made in this posture to hinder the delivery of Alcmæna. And therefore, as Pierius observeth, in the Medal of Julia Pia, the right hand of Venus was made extended with the inscription of Venus, Genetrix; for the complication or pectination of the fingers was an Hieroglyphick of impediment, as in that place he declareth.

Not like that.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to pectinate a lot more now I know what it means.