A New Math!

Hello dear polymaths! I’ve got a new “-math” word for ya!
“opsimath” .
I get so excited when I encounter a word I’ve never seen before. It goes back to high school when we were supposed to write down, idk, maybe 5 words a week that we had encountered in our studies that we didn’t know the meaning of. I already had a pretty big vocabulary, so: No could do! Until my roommate told me to read Thomas Wolfe. (And t this point I’m tempted to go off into long disquisition about what The Web and the Rock meant and means to me—and Wolfe seems to be slipping below the horizon of the literary firmament now, he didn’t have the glamorous life that’s keeping Fitzgerald and Hemingway aloft…so read it, please,) but ANYWAY:
Did you already know “opsimath” mens a person who took up learning later in life?
It doesn’t mean in old age, surely that would be “presbymath” or sump’n. But just…in maturity, after school days are over.
I encountered it in a review of the movie Poor Things, which I highly recommend, it is just SO damn much fun! (Although there is one too- long segment which is frankly pornographic, just so you know.). But it’s like Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley meets Edward Gorey meets Charlotte Brontë. Emma Stone plays Bella, who has an infant brain in a young woman’s body, with Willem Dafoe as her Dr Frankenstein, or Dr. Rappacini, or Dr Coppelius, you know the type. The word “opsimath” comes up while the reviewer is describing a scene in which Bella has become an avid, nay obsessive, reader. Her frustrated seducer, who has spirited her aboard a luxury ocean liner, at one point rips one book after another out of her hands and hurls them out to sea! He’s a-steaming’ and a-puffin’ but Lord! SHE won’t stop for nuthin’! At that moment all she wants, all she wills, is to KNOW. Very funny scene! It reminded me that my BMD used to bitterly claim that one of our trips had been ruined for him by my eponymous absorption in A.S. Byatt’s book “Possession”. (Truly gripping, and the movie of it is just as good!)
The movie Poor Things made me think of Shakespeare’s line, “Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice”. We watch Bella master her ability to choose (and anybody who has ever been a parent or even a puppy owner will appreciate Stone’s portrayal of the process) and then, the rest of the movie is about WHAT, WHOM, she will choose. She’ll try anything! And just like a toddler, she won’t repeat or endure any experience she didn’t find instantly gratifying. Oh, go see it!
So what’s with the root “ops”? Wikipedia says Ops was another name for Rhea, the wife of one of the Titans, Cronus, who presided over a golden age of plenty. So it’s the same root as “opulent” and “opus” (but evidently not related to “ophthalmology” or “panopticon”. ) So coupled with “math” I reckon it refers to the infinite universe of the mind, of knowledge. of meaning.
I :heart::heart::heart::heart::heart:that! And I think I can call ME an opsimath too, because I didn’t really start my decades long quest to know-it-all until after college, where, I now regret to say, it seems we all tried to get by with learning as little as possible.
As Clive James said, the childish desire to know everything does not abate when it is time for you to do the most adult thing of all: vanish. He knew he had a terminal illness, but he commented, “One may as well read until the lights go out.”
Coming upon such an adorable, fun-to-say word I had never seen before was a uniquely pleasurable experience! Hope you were entertained, dear polymaths!


It is great to read something written by someone so enthusiastic! Makes the hearts of us life-long learners beat a little faster.

But without raining on the parade, let me pass on the information that you drove me to drag off the shelf my old copy of Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (1989 edition), which claims more than a Quarter Million Entries. Guess what word is not listed between OPS (Office of Price Stabilization) and opsin (protein components of the retina pigment)?


Dictionary.com has it:


Origin of opsimath
C19: from Greek opsimathēs, from opse late + math- learn

Dictionary.com is based on the Collins English Dictionary — Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012


Thanks JW! Take THAT, Gavin! ( hee hee, just funnin’ witcha! But I did look it up before posting this. ). Loox like I was off track about the root, I didn’t know opsi was Greek for late,


Real words were printed on paper before the debacle we call the 21st Century. :slightly_smiling_face:


Yes, and even if they WERE, they can still be reborn: Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year for 2023 is “hallucinate”.


Can it be applied on a subject by subject basis? I’ve had “properly learn Latin” on my bucket list, and its getting late. :grimacing:

I’d like to call myself a “Latin opsimath”. Sounds high-brow, at least.


There is something fascinating about learning another language well enough to read classics in the original. It also prompts one to think about the peculiarities of every language, including one’s mother tongue.

For better or worse, Latin got its chance back in high school. More recently, I have been scratching away at Chinese, raising questions such as why do some languages have measure words while others hardly do?

It is proper in English to say “four head of cattle”, but not to say “four head of cats” – why? Chinese has at least a dozen different measure words like “head”, each of which is proper (& required) only for specific situations.

When we remember that it probably took us about 10 years to learn our mother tongue (when we had the advantages of plastic child brains and total immersion in the language), it is indeed getting late for some of us to develop any proficiency in a new language. But we can still try – and have fun trying!


For example, in English, the order of adjectives that every mother tongue speaker uses, which sound strange to them when they hear them in different order, but of which they’re otherwise unaware and use effortlessly.


If you try to make logical sense of this other than just training your neural nets to do it automatically, your head will explode trying to figure out and memorise all the rules. Many idioms people use make no sense if you try to parse them literally. For example, in French, you express the concept “It’s a question/matter of” as «Il s’agit de». If you translate this literally, you get “It acts upon itself of”. Quoi?


This training of our youthful neural nets brings us to George Orwell’s thesis behind Newspeak – if we don’t have the language, we can’t have the thought. What else have our neural nets absorbed along with those never-noticed idiosyncratic language structures of our mother tongues?

A polite shopper might ask in English: “What does it cost?”. A polite Chinese shopper would ask: “Many few money?” Do these kinds of subtle linguistic differences lead to different mental views in which East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet?


I love this. I remember using the Acronym BAGS when learning French: beauty, age, goodness, size.
Actually I held out on you polymaths: I learned TWO new words last week: the other is
a linguistic term I encountered while reading Kuang’s novel “Babel”. I think it has sump’n to do with idiomatic phrases which translate literally from one language to another . Although that seems oxymoronic since I thought an “idiom” means a phrase which native speakers all understand but which doesn’t make sense when dissected.

To digress: The book “Babel” is a fantasia on the Opium Wars. It’s long, but I’m likin’ it. Lots about the art of translation and the power of words.


Only speculating, but perhaps this question could be abstracted by comparing the propositions resulting from mathematical systems that are equivalent in all respects except for the symbols and definitions, i.e., the mathematical “language” used to represent essentially the same concepts. Might a proof be more readily apparent in one system compared to another, due only to differences in representation?


You are in the clear there, Hypatia. Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, 1989 edition, has “calque” in black ink printed on paper before the end of the 20th Century. :grinning:

Calque: a loan translation, esp. one resulting from bilingual interference in which the syntactic structure of a borrowed construction is maintained but its morphemes are replaced by those of the native language, as German halbinsel for peninsula. [French – derivative of calque, (to) copy, base on; Italian calcare to trace over, tread].

“Morphemes” – now there is a word one does not hear often.


I think we’re all opsimaths on this bus….


There is, indeed, a singular joy in learning and using new words ( also making Spoonerisms as often as humanly possible).


Oooh, me too, I :heart: spoonerisms!


A morpheme is a basic structural unit of a language that cannot be further reduced, right?
I love writing with long multisyllable words, but I read somewhere that in speaking, I mean giving a speech, you should avoid them for words of one syllable. I think of the lines from Macbeth:

“I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more, is none”.

All morphemes, words of one syllable, they fall on our ears like the blows of an anvil, the peals of a bell, the inexorable strikes of a clock. ( I prefer the anvil because Macleish’s line, “Wherever the iron of English rings from a tongue” gives me the holy shiver.)

Is “become” a morpheme, or a combo of two? No I reckon it’s two, as in “befall” , “besotted”, “befit”. Ok so it’s two syllables, but it IS the mot juste. What two one-syllable words could he have used instead with the same effect?

And @johnwalker , it occurs to me that if you use the adjectives he mentioned in the “wrong” order, you might sound, not like a “maniac”,but like a poet! Poetry employs the deliberate misplacement of words to prod and awaken the reader or listener: a lady fair, misty mountains cold, the ocean blue….


Hypatia – I wanted to thank you for mentioning R. F. Kuang’s historical fantasy novel “Babel”. Because of your enthusiasm, I tracked down a copy – all 542 pages of it – and found the plot to be creative, cleverly constructed, very well written, and thoroughly engrossing. I understand why you were enthusiastic!

My normal taste in books runs more to actual histories, such as Jin Xu’s “Empire of Silver” and Jack Beeching’s “The Chinese Opium Wars”. Ms. Kuang’s fantasy builds well on genuine histories such as those, and conveys a real sense of what the 1830s must have been like – right down to Oxford’s English snobbery, often dismal weather, and usually worse food. I particularly enjoyed her footnotes, not having read a novel with footnotes since Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear”.

The discussions about word origins were fascinating, as well as being an essential part of the plot. Informative too! I learned several new words, including “parricide” (from the Latin parricidum). Most of us know of (but almost never have occasion to use) “patricide” (from the Latin pater); I had not realized there was also a word for murdering one’s mother and/or father. Those must have been rough times, back in the past.

I particularly appreciated that Ms. Kuang took a sensitive approach to what in less-skillful hands could have become a woke diatribe against sexism, racism, imperialism, & capitalism. Of course, none of us are perfect. Her frequent use of the term “white British” jarred slightly; contrary to the politically-correct revisionist period dramas that the BBC produces, in the 1800s there really was not any other kind of “British”. And why capitalize “Black” but not “white”? Is that actually a form of racism?

Despite such nit-picks, Ms. Kuang has written an excellent novel, worth every minute spent reading it.


If you like that mix o’ fantasy and history, try Michael Moorcock’s book Gloriana.


I caught a preview of this movie on YouTube. It was a 5 minute advertisement! I watched 60 seconds

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