Sunday, October 17, 2010

Scyptic responses

A while back, I got interested in the word "scyptic." I decided that it probably owes its existence to a misprint of the word "cryptic" in a work by H.P. Lovecraft, though I made up a suitable definition for it anyway.

I just discovered that someone has actually commented on my definition. Trevor thinks that HPL would not have let a misprint stand, and suggests instead that he might have coined "scyptic" as a kind of ancient Greek portmanteau, say a combo of skia ("shadow") and kruptos ("hidden").

HPL did dabble in ancient Greek neologism (more on this in a later post). But I'm not sure he'd have cut-and-pasted two words together in such an impressionistic and (from the Greek standpoint) incorrect way: how could he have expected anyone to understand the meaning? The misprint of "scyptic" for "cryptic" might have happened after HPL died. We'd have to check the earliest publications––but that's what S.T. Joshi presumably did for his critical edition, and Joshi prints "cryptic." I do wish that Joshi had said something about the scyptic variant.

But this is beside the point. Ghost-words become real words when people start using them, and Trevor has a post-HPL, genuine appearance of "scyptic" (as an obscure word without a definition!). I'm very happy to let Trevor's derivation from skia and kruptos stand as the pseudo-etymology for my pseudo-definition.


  1. Ye Elder Gods! Someone bitten by the same bug. How nice. I rather thought it might be a misprint myself. But lets face it, SCYPTIC is a fabulous (even if incorrect) neologism for good plain ol' "hidden shadows". Let's start using it and to hell with gilding the lily (or, as in this case, concealing the shadow). Many thanks.

  2. How marvelous to find others bitten by the same bu- er, night-gaunt! Whether invented or overlooked, word for me rather marvelously echoes "scoriac," which HPL employs earlier in the same work. Certainly of Greek derivation, scoriac of course came to Lovecraft via Poe's Ulalume, where it is used to describe a similarly volcanic realm of forbidding lava-lathed peaks with exotic mythical names. Thanks for this!