Friday, November 30, 2012


Meaning: etymologically, writing on the back. Cotgrave defines it as:
Papers written upon on both sides.
Usefulness: 1 (This may be my most useful word yet, since it's a fancy name for double-sided printing. I'm thinking of standing by the copier, waiting for someone to ask for help: "Ah, having trouble with the opisthograph function?"*  Can be used to make you sound green - "We've based our sustainability policy on increased use of the opisthograph" - or extended figuratively to irony, sarcasm or double entendre: "I suspect you are indulging in opisthography.")

Logofascination: 1 (While Cotgrave mentions papers, the OED talks of tablets, papyrus and scrolls; I picture an ancient scribe scratching reminders to himself on the back of his work.)

In the wild: No, surprisingly.

Degrees: 1 (depending on how picky you are about spelling)

Connections: n/a

Which is used in: G&P, Book the Third, Prologue. Rabelais retells the story of the busy-ness of Corinth while preparing for a siege, and of Diogenes' deliberately useless busy-ness in response. In their respective languages Rabelais and Sir Thomas contrast these states with the loveliest of lists - the citizens in useful enterprises, martial and otherwise, and Diogenes in any number of synonyms, symbols and metaphors for rolling his tub. The most useful thing Diogenes does is prepare for this activity:
he girded his cloak scarfwise about his left arm, tucked up his sleeves to the elbow, trussed himself like a clown gathering apples, and, giving to one of his old acquaintance his wallet, books, and opistographs, away went he out of town towards a little hill or promontory of Corinth called (the) Cranie; and there on the strand, a pretty level place, did he roll his jolly tub, which served him for a house to shelter him from the injuries of the weather...
Whether his comments on this activity were useful will depend on your thoughts on philosophy in general, and the Cynics in particular.

*This would make me an opisthographist; I might add it to my resume.

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