Friday, February 10, 2006

Word of the Week – Columbarium

I am a bear of very little brains and long words bother me.

Such is the delightful line written by A. A. Milne for his character, Winnie the Pooh.

The subject of long words has been extensively researched. As a result, it is well known that the average reading ability of the population of the United Kingdom equates to the standard of writing in the Sun newspaper. An appalling truth, if there ever was one.

Intent, as I am, on rescuing as many ignoramuses as I possibly can from the mire of lexical ignorance, I have once again dipped into my well-worn copy of The Concise Oxford Dictionary. Such action, like charity, is twice blessed. It (hopefully) serves the purpose of educating my reader, whilst ensuring that I am able to preserve my own place amongst the literati. (O.K., that all sounds very pompous and arrogant, which is not what was meant. However, it did enable me to use some rather good words!)

On this occasion, I have a double helping, my first offering leading to another discovery.

The first word of this week is columbarium.

According to the trusty C.O.D., a columbarium is ‘a building with tiers of niches for reception of cinerary urns’. The pleural form is columbaria. The word is actually Latin for ‘pigeon-house’. However, the word is, apparently, still in modern usage.

Having made this discovery, I then had to confirm my understanding of the word ‘cinerary’. It does indeed mean ‘of ashes’, as in a cinerary urn, i.e. the urn holding the ashes of the dead after cremation. Thereby, I discovered the second word for this week. It is cinerarium.

A cinerarium is a recess in which a cinerary urn is deposited.

What I am unable to clarify is whether each niche of a columbarium is a cinerarium!

With such a conundrum hanging over me, I am beginning to develop more than a degree of sympathy for Winnie the Pooh…and perhaps my self-appointed membership of the literati is not quite as secure as I would have wished for!

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