Saturday, December 22, 2007

Word of the Day: Rogation

The Latin rogaré, 'to raise (one's hand) in a linear direction', has an interesting and ambiguous past. It is unclear, to begin with, whether the word should imply a reaching out towards somebody/something, a reaching out to provide, or a reaching out to receive. At the same time, the Indo-European root of this word is also the root from which words like 'reign', 'rule', 'ruthless' and 'rectitude' appear to come from.

The English word 'rogation', of ecclesiastical Latin descent (i.e., from rogationis), refers to the ancient practice of conducting a prayer walk for supplication, thanksgiving, and the theurgic invocation of protection and blessing around a piece of land. Early Protestants frowned on this 'Papist practice', but their theological descendants are perfectly cheerful about this practice of pagan origin. It remains to this day enshrined in myths about boundary-marking and the annual practice of asserting one's rights by the 'beating of bounds'.

What's interesting about this idea of 'rogation' – to reach out, to raise up, to give or to receive – is the addition of prepositional prefixes to give a whole range of related words of decidedly curious diversity. There are quite a number.

'Derogation' refers to the lowering of rogation; it implies a turning away of the hand, thus demeaning or lowering the worth of a relationship (or the person involved in the relationship) or transaction (or the object involved in the transaction). Words that are derogatory (such as 'idiot' or 'moron' under current usage) are intended to demean or to frame someone in poorer light.

'Abrogation' refers to a rogation that is denied or cast away; it implies a breaking of a relationship, a termination or other voiding of contract, a crossing of lines not meant to be crossed. To abrogate a treaty is to render it void by transgression or fiat. An act of abrogation is not a friendly one.

'Prorogation' refers to the act of extending a hand further; in the past, this was understood to be a request for further rights, or the extension of a time limit or other constraint. At present, this word seems to imply the extension of something held over or held in abeyance; to prorogue a point of discussion is now to hold it over till the next meeting.

'Surrogation' (more commonly known through the word 'surrogate') refers to the act of placing one hand beneath another, thus substituting that which is already in place with something of the same capacity or ability. Of course, in actual fact, this often meant substituting the left hand for the right hand (in a right-handed person), vice versa for a left-hander.

'Interrogation' refers to a double act of asking and receiving in order; when one is interrogated, the interrogator is reaching out and expects to be responded to. Hence, the word has come to mean 'questioning' – and by extension through the long and dark history of various inquisitions, 'putting to the question'.

'Supererogation' refers to the act of granting more than is requested or doing more than is needed. The hand reaches out and receives more, does more, or gives more than it is expected to do. It also refers to the practice of abundant generosity in service or in giving to those in need. It can be used of divine grace which blesses or forgives the unworthy.

'Prerogation' (more commonly known by its result, a 'prerogative') comes from the idea of holding out one's hand in advance, thus perhaps 'cutting the queue' or receiving something by interception or preemption; of course, it can also imply giving out something to someone before you give it to others. A prerogative is something that is granted to a person which is not granted as freely to others.

'Arrogation' (more commonly known through the French-English 'arrogance') refers to the act of raising one's hand to seize or to bring something towards oneself. This applies to rights, objects, privileges, wealth, status or anything else which might be conferred or bestowed. It presumes and assumes in the presumption, so to speak.

I am sure that my readers can find more examples. What I find interesting is the idea that old verbs, with roots in languages which no longer exist as such, can have so many useful descendants. Time brings variety; however, only when the root is useful and well-supplied (and capable of manifold prepositional extension) does that variety thrive.

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