— morsels of trivia with which to fool smartypants jocks —
Well, were The Olympic Games named after Mount Olympus?
In a word: NO!
The Greeks named the Olympic Games after the pleasant valley of Olympia beside the River Alpheus in Elis, where the contests began as religious celebrations. Elis was called “a country” in ancient Greek geography. Elis was an area in the western part of the Peloponnesus, the peninsula forming the southern part of the mainland of Greece.
Mount Olympus, home of the 12 high deities of the ancient Greek pantheon, was hundreds of miles north of the Olympic Games site. This northern, often cloud-wreathed mountain abode of the chief gods was one of the locales of Hellenic heaven. But the root Olymp- was common throughout ancient Greece. There were in antiquity 14 Greek mountains named Olympus! Do we know the semantic content (meaning) of the -olymp root? No. But how about ‘mountain’?
The Agony of It All !
Ὀλυμπιακοί Ἀγώνες — That's how the original Olympic Games were written in ancient Greek, but without the accents: Olympiakoi Agones ‘Olympic Contests.’ An alternate form was the neuter plural ta Olympia or The Olympics.
The Agony of It All !
Except for two modest smooth-breathing accents that preceded the initial vowels (which my Greek font does not possess), the original Olympic Games in Greek were written: Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες ‘Olympiakoi Agones’ or Olympic Contests. An alternate form was the neuter plural ‘ta Olympia’ or The Olympics.
the front page of the first program
at the Athens Revival of the Games in 1896
Note the Greek word for ‘contests’ or ‘games’ — agones.
Yes, our English word agony stems from the same root.
Into Middle English we borrowed the Middle French form agonie, itself from Late Latin agonia, from Greek agonia ‘contest,’ ‘struggle,’ ‘anguish.’ Agonia arose from the concrete noun agon. In ancient Greek, an agon was any gathering that drew Greeks together, such as assembling in a beautiful valley for sports contests. Agon also meant any contest held at such gatherings to win a prize. Later agon was used to mean a ‘battle’ or a ‘ law case.’ The ultimate verb source of this Greek word was agein ‘to lead together, to celebrate.’ The Latin cognate verb agere gives us English words like agent and agency.
An admittedly rare English word for contestant is agonist. Much more frequently agonist is also used in physiology where it is a kind of muscle and in pharmacy where it is a kind of chemical.
The great English Puritan poet John Milton (1608-1674) wrote a closet drama entitled “Samson Agonistes” (published 1671 CE) based on the biblical story of the strongman Samson. Agonistes is a Greek noun meaning ‘someone engaged in a struggle.’
A closet drama does not mean that Milton jumped the page boy. It was a seventeenth-century term for a written play not meant to be performed onstage, but to be read aloud to friends sitting around a table in a house, or maybe in a small room called a closet.
Because, over the centuries since its publication, Milton's closet drama has been widely read by writers, the word agonistes came to have a modest use as a postpositive epithet in literary titles. The last noted use was Nixon Agonistes, a critical examination of President Nixon by American politcal analyst, writer and classicist Garry Wills, published in 1969.
Sweeney was Eliot's symbolic modern man, deracinated, corrupted, ill-educated, void of reason, the hollow, bobbled-headed toy of fascist leaders everywhere in today’s world. In Eliot’s glum iconography Sweeney was the modern man who chose not to know. Deliberate, belligerent ignorance was his comfy stance.
And — be not mistaken — Sweeney is with us still in modern times, at 10 Downing Street, in the Bush White House, on my own sad hill of Ottawa at whose summit plops Harper the parliament-prorogating fascist clown, the very mold and archetype of conservative bully leader proudly defending his wealthy oily supporters and letting the rest of humanity rot, all the while winking confidently up at heaven as he waves his little plastic glow-in-the-dark crucifix. To behold Harper is to vomit.
An opponent whom you contest against is your antagonist from Greek anti ‘against’ + Greek agonistes ‘fighter, contender’ from Greek agon ‘struggle, fight, competition.’
The chief person of a contest, a poem or a novel, often the hero of a tale, is a protagonist or “prime player” (protos Greek ‘first’).
The Word Olympus Not Greek! It might be Luvian!
Olympus does not appear to be an Indo-European root. Its meaning is unknown but there is some evidence that it may belong to a substrate of toponyms (place names) that belong to a people or language that existed in the Hellenic peninsula and predated the Indo-European arrival of the Greeks around 5,000 BCE.
This Anatolian language was Luvian. Some of the Luvian toponyms in ancient Greek were Korinthos, labyrinthos, Hymettos, Olympos, and the dozens of ancient Greek place names with /ss/ such as Knossos, Parnassus, Mykalessos etc. etc. These /ss/ place names, remnants of a genitival adjective that is not Indo-European, are scattered all around the Aegean littoral, suggesting that the Luvian language may have served as a pre-Phoenician, pre-Hellenic, nautical traders’ lingua franca. The Luvians may have settled islands and coastal areas long before the Greek arrival in what would become ancient Greece.
The Anatolian Trojans, whom the Greeks fight against in Homer’s Iliad, may have spoken Luvian. Casual readers forget that the Trojans were not Greeks. Homer states specifically that they did not speak Greek. Luvian appears to be a non-Indo-European survival in ancient Anatolia. Both cuneiform and hieroglyphic Luvian texts survive to puzzle and delight us.
copyright © 2012 William Gordon Casselman
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Reviews of my Book
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A Great New Review of My Latest Book!
October 26, 2011
Welcome to the Enchanted Forest
By WB Johnston
This review is about Bill Casselman’s latest e-book about words: Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A Word Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems (Kindle Edition)
“Wade Davis, lately of National Geographic, once described each living language as “an old-growth forest of the human spirit.” Once you decide to enter the kleptomaniacal woods of our mother tongue, what you need is more than a tour guide. This is no Disney-fied ‘keep-your-hands-inside-the-car-at all-times’, point A to point B, clear-cutting mining of language. You, here, are in the hands of Sir William of Cassel, a genuine shaman modestly posing as a simple lover of words.
Leave it on your desk at work and trust that someone will riffle through it when you are out at lunch. Shamans are magicians of the highest order. The work of their hands and hearts is game-changing. Or, hey, put it on your Kindle and just feel comforted that you can wander back out into the forest with Bill even in the middle of a boring lecture.
(Casselman replies: Thank you so much, Dr. J., for the kudos.)
Jenni French of San Fancisco, California writes on her blog “My Corner of the Universe” for March 19, 2011:
Casselman, Bill. Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A World Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2010.
And the author has quite a way with words, so I have found myself rereading many sentences in this book and slowing my progress through it.
My current favorite sentence is found in a discussion of dog hybrid breed names: “What a revolting concatenation of cutesiness and smarmy nomenclatorial treacle parading under the name of canine hybrid breed names” (19).
I’m sure I’ll have another favorite sentence in a day or two.
This book is just that good and just that entertaining.”
(Author Bill Casselman replies: “Thanks, Jenni!” )
Just a reminder that this book contains my ALL-NEW word esssays, none of which are available anywhere else in print or online.
Cindy Lapeña on her blog “Creativity Unlimited” of July 19 ,2011, writes:
Posted by mimrlith in 365 Things to Look Forward to.
19. Starting a book
To a certified bibliophile like me, a.k.a. bookworm, one of the most exciting things to look forward to is to start reading a new book. In fact, sometimes the prospect of starting to read a new book is so exciting that I have to hurry to finish the book I am currently reading, just so I can start a new one.
If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s a book, especially if it promises to be a good one. Of course there are certain books I just won’t touch or be seen with, but at the risk of being hung by my thumbs by fans of such literature, I will not mention any genres in particular. . .
Seeing a book with a title that totally captivates me, like Where a Dobdob meets a Dikdik (yes, that is a book title!) has me so worked up, I just can’t wait to dive in. I imagine all sorts of deliciously fancifully outrageous words with a title like that. Is it obvious? I just love books on words. You won’t believe how many dictionaries I own. Or books on lexical oddities and other lexical explorations. Yes, I am a logophile of sorts. I love the new words I pick up from new books. I relish finding out the meanings of all manner of words and phrases and expressions. What could be more fun?”
(Replies author Bill Casselman: Please scroll to bottom of page or click here to link to a free seven-page preview of my new book, Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Dear Mr. Casselman,
. . . I revisited the paraprosdokian page, and have finally quit laughing again at “Casselman’s Conclusion.” You were not unkind to the “profligate prof-lets.” During my years as an acquisitions editor, in rejection letters I often quoted Prof. Moses Hadas, classicist at Columbia University, who wrote a young scholar in response to having been sent the prof-let’s first book, “Thank you for sending me your book. I will waste no time reading it.”
I invite you to tour my site and select from the hundreds of word stories here.
To begin, click on the Word List banner below.
Then perhaps browse the site map with its links to every page of my
This new book is available from November 2007 and can be ordered at any bookstore in the world. Among the essay contributors in Readings for Technical Communication are George Grant, Marshall McLuhan, C.P. Snow, George Orwell, Stephen Strauss, William Zinsser and, yours ever in abject humility — Bill Casselman.