In the great comic opera The Pirates of Penzance, William S. Gilbert wrote these lyrics about the sudden chance that the many pirates had to marry the Major-General’s equally many daughters:

Here’s a first-rate opportunity
To get married with impunity,
And indulge in the felicity
Of unbounded domesticity.
You shall quickly be parsonified,
Conjugally matrimonified,
By a doctor of divinity,
Who is located in this vicinity.

All written with such concinnity, wouldn’t you agree? I expect you would, as I surely would have, if only I’d known the word. I was on a recent dictionary chase when I came across it. To say that Spanish has the synonymous concinidad is no help in understanding what it means, so I’ll give you the definition from the 1913 Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary: ‘internal harmony or fitness; mutual adaptation of parts; elegance; — used chiefly of style of discourse.’

The adjective on which this noun is based—concino in Spanish, concinnous in English—is rarely used, but it is close to the Latin concinnus from which it was copied, and which meant ‘fitly, skilfully put together or joined, well adjusted, beautiful.’ And that original was so deftly created that its origin remains unclear. The word has the form of con + cinnus, but the semantics don’t work, because the only cinnus in Latin was a late word that meant ‘a frown.’

But don’t frown: if you’re ever looking for a novel rhyme for afinidad/affinity or salinidad/salinity, you’ve got one.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

4 Comments (+add yours?)

    Jul 28, 2012 @ 13:47:00

    Here’s an astounding coincidence: from Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words, 28 July 2012 (same date as your post):
    ” 2. Weird Words: Concinnity/kənˈsɪnɪtɪ/
    “My old dad once advised me never to mix the grape and the grain, a proverbial dictum that has served me well. The Romans seem not to have learned the precept, as they had a drink, cinnus, which the grammarian Hesychius of Alexandria explained was a mixture of wine, honey, water and either barley or spelt (an ancient type of wheat). I presume the grain was steeped in the wine to make a sweet alcoholic soup and not brewed into ale first, though some sources disagree.
    “You may hazard a guess as to its effect on the Roman constitution by one of the other senses of cinnus being of a facial distortion or grimace. The scholar Johannes Scapula wrote in 1790 that it could also mean “a promiscuous conglomeration of many things of various kinds” or as Dr Adam Littleton defined it in his Latin Dictionary of 1715, “A mingle-mangle or gallimaufry of several things together; a hotchpotch or mish-mash, a medley.” Contrariwise, Latin evolved from it the verb concinnare, to join together skilfully, which suggests some Romans must have liked the mixture.
    “When concinnare arrived in English in the 1530s, as concinnity, it took on only the last of these senses, a harmonious arrangement or fitting together of the different parts of something or a studied elegance of literary or artistic style. The word is now rare, though it may be found lurking in some unexpected places, ready to surprise the reader:
    “The decor was stylish to a point where it transcended style and entered the realms of perspicuous harmony, shunning grandiloquent ornamentation in favour of a visual concinnity, garnered from aesthetic principles, which combined the austerity of Bauhaus and ebullience of Burges into an eclectic mix before stripping them down to their fundamental essentials, to create an effect which was almost aphoristic, in that it could be experienced but never completely expressed. So there is no need to bother with a description. But trust me, it was sheer poetry.
    Waiting for Godalming, by Robert Rankin, 2000.”

    Speaking of the word “coincidence,”
    It near aligns in sound and sense
    To the rare word “concinnity,”
    But in imitating Gilbert I have no affinity.

    Nevertheless, I’d venture to guess the root of concinnity is “cidere,” not “cinnus.” Since /d/ and /n/ have the same point of articulation they could be confused.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jul 28, 2012 @ 17:06:06

      Wow, that’s a great coincidence! Thanks for bringing it to our attention and for adding your own take on the possible etymology of the Latin original. The common point of articulation of /d/ and /n/ make that plausible.

      Thanks also for your concluding lines in the style of Gilbert that quickly put concinnity to good use.


  2. shoreacres
    Jul 28, 2012 @ 17:01:42

    It’s always fun to find a word here that’s part of my language yet completely foreign.

    Both your post and WordSnooper’s comment are quite interesting. I really can’t add anything except a casual observation. I’ve spent a bit of time around wood workers’ shops and watching the finish carpenters on boats. When they’re deeply involved in a complicated project- fitly and skillfully joining beautiful pieces of wood – their concentration is complete, and they’re usually frowning!


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jul 28, 2012 @ 17:12:49

      I hope those frowns don’t get propagated to you, the observer of them. When I’m out for long periods taking pictures and looking intently for concinnity in nature, I don’t think I frown, but I don’t get to observe myself to know.


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