Friday, March 31, 2006
Rue Are You??
It's not often we're able to use the quaint little word "rue." You know what I'm talking about, as in: 'I rue the day my sister was born," or "I rue the fact that my sister won't join me in an absinthe-tasting party." In common usage, I think most of us use "rue" as a shortcut for regret, or to imply disappointment.
The primary dictionary definition of rue is to "bitterly regret," such as "I bitterly regret that my sister is being such a jerk about this." Remember the part about bitterly, as that's going to be important in a minute or two.
I love learning about the origin and development of words, or their "etymology" as it is technically called. Do you know what the etymology of etymology is? Like most English words, it comes from a Greek root, in this case "etumos" which means true or truth. Therefore, the study of a word's origin leads us to the truth of its original meaning, which in many cases leads to a better understanding of its current usage, or at the very least, is just plain interesting in the sense of how words can change their meaning over time.
Getting back to rue. While doing my research on absinthe (see previous post), I ran across wormwood, which is a type of herb, the oil of which is often regarded as the second-most bitter substance out there. I can hear you asking, "Well, if wormwood is the second-most bitter substance, what is the most bitter?" I'm glad you asked me that, because that's what this whole posting is about!
According to my highly suspect sources (the Internet), the most bitter natural substance on earth comes from a perennial plant called Ruta graveolens, also known as the common rue, which is an ancient medicinal herb from the citrus family, still valued today for its uniquely bitter properties (often used as a natural insect repellant). The actual word rue (in both its noun and verb forms) goes back through old English, Latin and even Greek, where its basic meanings have remained similar--bitterness, in all its forms.
Somewhere in the early years of Old English's development, the bitterness of the herb came to be applied to people's feelings of regret or disappointment and hence its modern usage as a verb. So now you know that if you want to use the non-noun form of the word "rue" in its traditional sense, your meaning must include an element of bitterness or recrimination, such as "She'll rue the day she decided not to share a goblet of absinthe with me." Have I made my point yet???
Finally, you might also be asking: "Well, Frank, that's all very interesting, but what about the French word rue, which we often hear, and which means street or boulevard. Surely that must come from the same root, but I don't get the connection between a bitter herb and a Parisian street. How do you explain that?" OK, I don't have quite enough time to delve into that, but I'm sure that if I did, it would have something to do with my sister being narrow-minded and petty, so we'll just have to leave it there for now.