Wednesday, April 12, 2017

SHANE'S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: Effluvium or effluent? Ezra's tree needs to know.

Humanity is the rich effluvium, it is the waste and the manure and the soil, and from it grows the tree of the arts.
-- Ezra Pound

Resisting the temptation to reformat Pound's quote to suit local conditions, let's take a look at two variants of the same root word.

[ih-floo-vee-uh m]

noun, plural effluvia [ih-floo-vee-uh], effluviums.

1. a slight or invisible exhalation or vapor, especially one that is disagreeable or noxious.

Origin of effluvium

1640-50; < Latin, equivalent to ef- ef- + fluv-, base of fluere to flow (see effluent ) + -ium -ium Related forms: effluvial, adjective

Many a sewage treatment discussion has prompted the word effluent.

[ef-loo-uh nt]


1. flowing out or forth.


2. something that flows out or forth; outflow; effluence.
3. a stream flowing out of a lake, reservoir, etc.
4. sewage that has been treated in a septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
5. sewage or other liquid waste that is discharged into a body of water, etc.

Origin of effluent

Latin 1720-30; < Latin effluent- (stem of effluńďns flowing out, present participle of effluere), equivalent to ef- ef- + flu- flow + -ent- -ent

So, which word actually works best as Pound's source for the tree of the arts?

Effluvium denotes a noxious odor or discharge, while effluent works better as a synonym for fertilizer. It would seem that odor wouldn't be a sufficient source of (shall we say) enrichment, but my guess is that effluvium simply sounded better to Pound.

The man was a poet, after all ... and poets seldom administer sewage treatment plants.

Shane's Excellent New Words: Autodidacticism ... and a biography of the poet Ezra Pound.

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