Monday, July 31, 2006

Hapax Legomenon: phthistical

In The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, we come across the odd term: phthistical.

The term "phthisical" concerns consumptive, as in tuberculosis - the white death. With tuberculosis * the lungs deteriorate with infection, wheezing and whiteness of the skin appears. Eventually, there is no lung capacity and therefore the hemoglobin can no longer be oxygenated.

Lovecraft uses the very exotic "phthistical" rather than the more usual "phthisical".

"I am grown phthistical ... from the cursed river air."

Highly moist air was considered to be a cause of tuberculosis**.

The term is clearly Greek, but the form is exotic. The Greek is phthisikos, from phthisis which means consumptive - tubercular.

*Chrispy has toured Waverly Hills Sanitorium twice, and each time I've come away with a sadness of the thousands who died. Yes, I did experience oddness, and both times saw an eerie blue light about the size of a firefly (lightning bug) flit about the broken rafters.

** In Louisville, Farmington is a well restored home from the turn of the nineteenth century. Most beds in those days were arranged so that the sleeper rested inclined, to keep fluids from building in the lungs from the very damp summer air.

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