I was delighted last week to discover that French has a word for 'nth', as in 'to the nth degree'—énième. I don't know why this should have surprised me, but it did. I was also overjoyed to learn the word bugonia, not in the OED but attested in scholarly literature, and referring to the supposed generation of bees from an ox-carcase.
Then seek they from the herd a steer, whose hornsMeanwhile, I want to coin a new word. We already have the word risible, for something worthy of laughter (ridere, 'to laugh'). But how about those things less risible than the risible, worthy not quite of laughter, but only of smiling? I propose surrisible (sub-ridere, 'to smile', whence the nonce-words subride and subrident—but surrisible is more natural English, following surrogate (sub-rogare), surreptitious (sub-repticius), etc.). We can all think of examples of surrisible things. If I absentmindedly confused shaving-foam for deodorant in a blearyeyed morning, Mrs. Roth would think it risible, but to you, it would probably be only surrisible. Likewise, we find surrisible a freshman paper marked by my wife, casually claiming that the man behind the bar in Manet's Folies-Bergère (right) is in fact Jack the Ripper. We had no idea what would lead someone to such a conclusion: the date's almost right (painting—1882, Jack's spree–1888), but the country is off and in any event it's completely nonsensical. We now know, it turns out, what Jack looked like: he has a harder, squarer physiognomy than Manet's man, though he wears the same moustache. A google search turned up the obvious reason for the nincompoopery, a paragraph in a piece by Jonathan Jones tossed off a few years ago for the culture snobs at the Grauniad:
With two years' growth are curling, and stop fast,
Plunge madly as he may, the panting mouth
And nostrils twain, and done with blows to death,
Batter his flesh to pulp i' the hide yet whole,
And shut the doors, and leave him there to lie.
But 'neath his ribs they scatter broken boughs,
With thyme and fresh-pulled cassias: this is done
When first the west winds bid the waters flow,
Ere flush the meadows with new tints, and ere
The twittering swallow buildeth from the beams.
Meanwhile the juice within his softened bones
Heats and ferments, and things of wondrous birth,
Footless at first, anon with feet and wings,
Swarm there and buzz, a marvel to behold;
. . .
But sudden, strange to tell
A portent they espy: through the oxen's flesh,
Waxed soft in dissolution, hark! there hum
Bees from the belly; the rent ribs overboil
In endless clouds they spread them, till at last
On yon tree-top together fused they cling,
And drop their cluster from the bending boughs.
— Vergil's Georgics IV.
And who are you? The top-hatted stranger, of course, the Jack the Ripper whose ghostly reflection approaches her with such menace in the mirror. Manet captures the coolness, cruelty and glamour of modern life. This is one of the keystones of modern art.Perhaps this, also, played a part:
Like Jack the Ripper zonked on laudanum and champagne sitting at a table with Toulouse Lautrec at the Folies Bergere, waiting for the girls to get off work.Thus the perils of not properly reading what you find online. Idly browsing the Wikipedia article on Jack, however, it struck me that another identification was more plausible. Take another look at Manet's man—and then cast your glance at George Lusk (right), head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee that patrolled the streets at night in search of Jack, in vain. They are obviously the same man! I sincerely hope that this discovery will aid more than one future undergraduate paper on the subject. As for surrisible, I suggest you all go out and use it in a sentence (spoken or blogged) today—let's make this word a dictionary reality!