Tuesday, 24 January 2012
An epitomy was, originally, a brief summary of a book - a sort of Reader's Digest precis for people who couldn't be bothered to read the whole thing. Indeed, the Greek epitome means cut. It's from this original meaning that we get the modern sense of paragon or perfect type, for if somebody says that he's the epitomy of good manners what they mean is that you don't need to bother to read a whole book on etiquette: just look at him.
Equally, if you epitomise something, you edit it.
Cole Porter once did some research on epitomies. He was on a cruise and writing a song about the best things in the world. So he asked all his fellow passengers to name the thing that they considered the tops. The result was this song.