as a riven leaf

January 25, 2007

today’s word is “riven.” riven is the participular adjective of the verb rive-1. The main definition of riven is “Split, cloven, rent, torn asunder.” I’ve frequently seen this used for geographical divisions, as it is in an article in this month’s Atlantic (gold star to the first reader to guess the article!). riven also has the really cool definition, “ornamentally slashed” which is, alas, obsolete and rare.  The first OED quote is: “c1450 Songs on Costume (Percy Soc.) 65 So many ryven shertes,..And so many lewed clerkes, Say I never.” Riven shirts are definitely coming back in.

rive-v1, whose base level of meaning is “to tear,” has a couple of great definitions along the way. The OED actually says that the word is now very rare, and most frequently used in the past tense. The best is def. 11b: In “hyperbolic or figurative language:  Denoting the effect of repletion, excessive laughter, etc.” repletion is “the act of eating or drinking to excess.”

def. 8 is to commit spoliation, which is apparently a synonym for pillaging. the word comes from spoliate-v, which comes from the french spolier. there’s also the noun spoliator, a pillager.

i am most ill when i’m rhyming and spoliating.

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