Monday, June 30, 2008

Wail Sightings


I attended a middle-eastern funeral not too long ago, and one of the striking elements was the ululation that I encountered. This is a ritualized howling or lamentation for the dead, piercing in quality and utterly arresting in its effect. The word comes from the Latin ululare, and the noun connected to the sound was originally used to name the screech-owl.

This led me on a search for other terms for wailing.

caterwaul: to wail like a cat in heat, but also applied to squalling children.
ejulation: [obsolete] from the Latin ejulare, to wail.
keening: the Irish version of wailing or lamenting the dead.
quain: [obsolete] from the Icelandic kveina, to lament.
thutter: to howl or wail, from Old English.
vagitus: a cry or wail, especially of a newborn child.
• And yes, SNL fans, there was once a wailster, a female wailer.

SIDEBAR: The Keening Spell [a song]

SIDEBAR: Jeremiah 9:20


Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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