December 29, 2017

Words of the Month - Incensed

        Some time ago it occurred to me to wonder how the word incense came to mean both “a fragrant substance for perfuming the air”, and “to enrage,” two concepts that seem to be about as unrelated as it’s possible to be.  But these two definitions of incense are indeed related, as a quick look at their etymology reveals.  The connection is the burning.  Incense is something you burn for its scented smoke, and to incense someone is to set them aflame with anger.  Compare with fuming, another word that can describe a smelly fire, a fragrant perfume, and a furious person.
        Incendere, “to set on fire” is the same Latin root that gives us incendiary, of course, but it’s also in the same family as candere, “to shine,” which gives us candle, chandelier (by way of Old French), and incandescent.  But candare goes still farther, and also gives us candid (as in “shining pure, white, and truthful”), and even candidate, not, alas, from the shining honesty of  politicians, but from the shining white togas worn by candidates in ancient Rome.
        Let me share one more interesting related word, which comes from a Latin borrowing from Greek, from the Sanskrit branch of the same Proto-Indo-European root meaning “to shine, glow.”  The sandal in sandalwood has nothing to do with footwear but comes from the burning of the wood for incense.

[Pictures: Welcome, rubber block print by AEGN, 2016;
Book and Candle, wood block print by AEGN, 2000.]

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