Monday, 11 August 2014

Penetralia and Berlin

Shakespeare and Sons Bookstore and CafeI rather like a word that sounds as though it should be rude and isn't. And vice versa. I like jumentous because it sounds like a mixture of jubilant and tremendous and actually means smelling of horse urine. But I also like penetralia because it sounds like well... something awful, when, in fact, it means the innermost rooms of a building. So you go through the halls and foyers and public ballrooms until you reach the penetralia.

The singular is either penetralium or penetral. Keats preferred the former and said of Coleridge that he:

...would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge

Which almost makes sense if you read it a few times. Penetral is the older form, though, and is stressed on the first syllable. It may not have Keats' seal, but it does have the advantage of sounding like entrail.

My favourite use of penetralia is the first citation in the OED:

From the penetralia—the secret chambers of the soul.

Anyway, I shall be going to Berlin the weekend after next and shall be giving a talk on August 23rd at the wonderful Shakespeare & Sons on Warschauerstrasse. Do come along if you can. There'll be a film screening too and all sorts of lovely stuff.

 Samuel Taylor Coleridge portrait.jpg
Contemplating the penetralia


  1. FYI:

  2. That's just a link to your blog and should be removed.....

    Laurie -

  3. Penetralia.
    Who knew Roman architecture had such comedy potential?

  4. Apparantly a popular misconception - i never could understand wanting to void oneself of fine wine and mediterranean food? A passage below tiered seats for fast exit from the games or a play etc 'to spew forth' onto the outside street. Makes more sense to me.....

    Laurie -

  5. Penetralium is in fact bad Latin, just as "animalium" would be. In (Medieval) Latin the word was a third-declension neuter (penetrale, pl. penetralia). Those neuters, when borrowed into English, just lose their final -e, which is why we have animals and universals.

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  7. A penetralia in Berlin would be ‚das berliner Zimmer’, which means the berlin room. In the late 19th. Centry Berlin’s population began to grow rapidly. Due to the lack of living places, people extended the front house to the courtyard, at the turning point we have a large room with just one window in the corner. This room is of course darker than all the other rooms, because the place of the window is awkward and only facing the inner courtyard. It's not exactly innermost, but in this case, it feels like.

    Btw, how was Pergamon? :-)