Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lexical Letdown

Well, you may remember that a few weeks back I got all worked up over a mystery word I'd discovered while reading H.P. Lovecraft. In the best of all possible worlds, "scyptic" would have turned out to be some bizarre Lovecraftian neologism complete with its own pseudo-etymology. But this is not a perfect world, reader.

I turned to the relevant passage in Joshi's carefully prepared edition and found that the word "cryptic" had displaced my rare butterfly. Just a misprint after all, and not even concealing something particularly interesting.

Rather than take my letdown lying down, I propose to define "scyptic" myself:
scyptic ('skiptik) adj. proceeding from or produced by an unknown source
The misprint that gave birth to the word is itself scyptic, for Joshi offers no note to explain how it came about or persisted for so long.

[The saga continues here.]


  1. Lovecraft was a professional editor as well as a writer; I find it difficult to believe he would have missed "scyptic" as a misprint. I agree it is not found in a dictionary of Classical Greek; neither is it found in Forcellini's Latin Lexicon, where one would expect to find it (in a related form) if it had been used by one of the Latin authors, several of whom used Greek words in their writing.
    This leads me to the tentative conclusion that "scyptic" was invented by Lovecraft to give a special effect.
    I like the proposed definition, but I would like to see it amended slightly thus:
    scyptic ('skiptik) adj. proceeding from or produced by an unknown or hidden source.

    "Scyptic" has also been used by another author, Peter O'Donnell, in one of his Modesty Blaise stories. In the story, Willie Garvin teases Modesty with the word "scyptic". The reader is also teased, because O'Donnell gives no explanation.

  2. Another solution to the "scyptic" conundrum occurs to me.
    There is the possibility that Lovecraft made up "scyptic" from a combination of two Greek words,
    "skia", meaning "ghost", "phantom of the dead", or the like
    "kryptos" meaning "hidden", "secret"
    So "scyptic" in the Lovecraft quote would have something of the meaning of both those words, and would be meaningful in the context.

  3. Oh, I see. Got yer posts in the wrong order. No matter. As for taking your letdown laying down... That's the spirit, me dear! Your definition's as good. Stay groovy.