Catching Up With…Ourselves

February 6, 2008

With all the movie coverage, football prognostications, and unscheduled breaks, I’ve gotten away from some of my favorite features here at Yesterday’s Salad. And while I know that word of the day columns and mass transit news are of absolutely no interest to most of our readers, herewith are a few tidbits for those whose eyes are brightened with nary a word.

Actually, our WORD OF THE DAY comes to us from the lede to The New York Times article about the Giant’s superbowl victory:

“The Giants were not even supposed to be here, taking an unlikely playoff path through the behemoths of their conference and regarded, once they alighted on Super Bowl XLII, as little more than charming foils for the New England Patriots’ assault on immortality.”

Certainly more playful than your average sports recap (where else are the Giants referred to as “charming foils”?), the lede features one truly bizarre stylistic use, the word “alight.” According to the OED, “alight” primarily refers to landing from above or dismounting from a horse, whence the obsolete definition, “To stop in a course or journey, to arrive.” [There’s also another obsolete verb alight meaning, natch, to make light, and another to lighten up or set fire.] But if it can’t actually be said that the Giants fell from the sky, how did they alight upon the Superbowl?

Another definition of “alight” is “To land, fall, or come upon anything without design,” as in this quote from The Great Gatsby: “I realized that so far his suspicions hadn’t alighted on Tom.” If so, can it really be said that the Giants came upon the Superbowl without design? Did no-one in the front office divine plans to make the Superbowl? Someone in the organization must have had a plan to make the Superbowl, didn’t they?

The Times‘ usage is in fitting with the general archaic sense of the word given by Merriam Webster, to come by chance. Though not as intricate as some of the others we’ve seen, it’ll serve us uncouth Americans quite well. Either way, it’s great to see an archaic sense of an obscure word making the lede to the cover article.

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