• Cockaigne •
Part of Speech: Noun, proper
Meaning: 1. Paradise, utopia, an imaginary land of luxury. 2 (Facetiously) The land of the Cockneys, which is to say, the East End of London.
Notes: Today's Good Word has nothing to do with cocaine, despite the resemblance in spelling and meaning. Cocaine originates in the Quechua word for the coca plant, kúka. The first syllable of today's word is [kah], not [ko].
In Play: In Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco wrote, "Everyone was seeking renewal, a golden century, a Cockaigne of the spirit." Aren't you glad the translator didn't use the English slang equivalent, la-la-land? The second sense of today's word refers (humorously) to the land of Eliza Doolittle, in whose Cockney accent Henry Higgins becomes 'Enry 'Iggins. This leads to the possibility of saying, in the right company, "Reliable carpenters in this area are as rare as Hs in Cockaigne."
Word History: Today's Good Word is capitalized since it is supposed to be a proper geographical name referring to a country. It is based on the Old French phrase pais de cokaigne "land of cakes" (Modern French pays de cocagne), referring to a country where good fortune abounds. The word takes on its current meaning in the Old French phrase trouver cocaigne "find a land where good things drop from the sky". The word for "cake" at the root of cocaigne was probably borrowed from German Kuchen "cake", a word sharing a source with English cook and kitchen.
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