• poetry •
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: 1. Aesthetically graceful and harmonious literature written in rhyme or meter. 2. All poems taken collectively as an exclusive set, such as the poetry of the world or English poetry of the 17th century. 3. The characteristic gracefulness and beauty of a poem, as dancing that is poetry in motion.
Notes: Poets and poetry-lovers have designated April as "Poetry Month", a good time to return to poetry for any of us who might have wandered away from it. Today's word is based on the word for the craftsman herself or himself: poet. Things revealing the assumed characteristics of a poem, grace and beauty are said to be poetic, the adjective. Of course, not all poetry we meet is graceful and beautiful. A scribbler who writes bad poetry is a poetaster, poet with the pejorative suffix -aster.
In Play: The strongest argument for the claim that language is primarily for self-expression rather than communication is the poetry millions of us write without desire or hope of anyone reading it. The reason we need a month to celebrate poetry (Washington and Lincoln have to split a single day) is that we find its spirit in so many places other than literature: "In the spring Rose Dewey loves to sip her tea in the garden, enjoying the poetry of its blossoms filling their throats with sunlight."
Word History: Poetry is built on the word poet, which comes to us via Latin and French from Greek poetes "maker, author, poet." Poetes is the actor noun from the verb poiein "to make, create, compose". The P in this word originates in a Proto-Indo-European sound, [kw], for we find the same root in Sanskrit cinoti "piles up" and Old Slavic chinu "act, deed", still alive today in Polish czyn "act, deed". Poet replaced the meaning of Old English scop, but the word remained. By the time of Middle English it had become scof "to tease, mock", and from there went on to become today's scoff. (We will not scoff the contribution of John Graham, though, for 'twas he who suggested that Poetry Month should not be forgotten by alphaDictionary.)
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