Rantings of a sub-editor

March 2, 2010

Who gets it: the poet or the prophet?

Filed under: new words,Richard Dixon,vaticide — substuff @ 11:04 am

Ah, much happiness in my subby little world. Dim sum with Mr Dixon in the sunshine yesterday and the opportunity to practise attempting to convey an impression of great intelligence while simultaneously using chopsticks. A trip to The Times, tidbits overheard in lifts, a handshake with Simon Pearson and the possibility of shifts.

More joy: a beautiful two-volume New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has fallen into my clutches. I have been getting by at home with an Encarta dictionary (complete with pictures and American spellings) for the past decade, always meaning to make the move to Oxford and always finding something less dictionary-like to spend my pennies on. These babies have thumbnails. And gold lettering. And little blue speckles on the sides. So beautiful.

And in further book-bliss news, I have been lent Dr Johnson’s Dictionary of Entertaining and Historically Stimulating Words (if I may abbreviate its title so abruptly). I haven’t yet had the opportunity to properly investigate the delights within. But here’s a question.
On the back, it says:

Va’ticide n.s. [vates and caedo, Latin.] A murderer of poets

Fantastic! I gave it a quick Google to see if I could find an instance of it actually being used. Had there ever been a rampage by a vaticidal maniac? Was vaticide more of a problem in some parts of the world than others? Sadly – happily, in fact, for the poets among us – there were no examples to be found. (Although it does appear to be the name of an Australian heavy metal band – disturbing image alert.) But to my surprise, the word was translated overwhelmingly as “the murder of a prophet”. Murder, not murderer. Prophet, not poet.

To the shiny OED I went (although ‘went’ is probably the wrong word, considering that I have had it clutched lovingly to my bosom for the past two hours). It translates vates as a poet, especially one divinely inspired; a prophet-poet. So a bit of both, then.

But to me, the murder of a prophet and a murderer of poets are two quite different things. And if I am going to use such a fantastic word, I want to know what it means! Any offers?


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