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The Obligatory Obsequies

At least once a book, I refer to some lord or lady enduring obsequies from the footmen, maids or characters of lesser rank. Invariably, Madam Copy Editor will leave a margin note for me that “obsequies” are funerary rites, though I’ve only heard the word used in that sense when somebody alludes to “final obsequies.”

Turns out Madam Copy Editor is right, which is often the case. OED lists one definition for obsequy as: A funeral rite or ceremony; a funeral. Also: a commemorative rite or service (performed at the grave of the deceased or elsewhere) (now rare).

And yet, there is another definition, from the same root as obsequiousness, as follows:

Ready compliance with the will or pleasure of another, esp. a superior; deferential service; 

From what I can tell, the first definition cropped up as a variant of the Latin exsequiae, meaning final rites, in the sense of a duty to the dead, while the second definition is the modern descendent of the Latin obsequiem, having the same meaning of deferential service.

Maybe, in future books, I’ll have the maids and footmen being merely attentive and polite, lest somebody think I’m sending a character to a premature reward.

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11 comments on “The Obligatory Obsequies

  1. 1
    Elizabeth Thompson says:

    WORDS- I LOVE THEM, BUT MY FRIENDS THINK I AM SHOWING OFF-GUESS I AM.
    IF I USE “DEFECATING” OR “PERISTALSIS” (SP?) THEY LOOK AT ME LIKE W-H-A-T-?
    I LOVE THE WORD “MIASMIS” (SP?) MAGGIE sMITH USED IT A WEEK AGO IN THE SHOW “DONTON ABBY”
    IT COMES TO MIND WHENEVER THE KITTY LITTER BOX NEEDS CLEANING.
    I THINK I WILL USE IT WHEN MY DAUGHTERS COME OVER. THEY WILL LAUGH. AND SAY “MOTHER”. WHAT FUN
    ELIZABETH (BETTY)

  2. 2
    Rhonda English says:

    Ah words!!! Sometimes I want to find the person who decided what word would be associated with which object and flog them!!! LOL I remember being a student in school and learning all the different words in the English language, boggles the mind!! I had no idea that ONE WORD could have SO MANY DIFFERENT MEANINGS!! Somehow I managed to meander through the dictionary and am thankful to my 11th and 12th grade honors English teacher for engouraging us to open ourselves to the wealth of reading!! Anytime we came upon a word we didn’t recall reading before she would make us look it up and write down every possible meaning and use it sentences accordingly!! Seemed awful at the time but then when I come across words like “obsequies” I know what it means in every context!!! Drives my husband crazy!! He refuses to play Words With Friends with me!!

    Rhonda

  3. 3

    hello
    It’s a nice post.Thank you for sharing.

  4. 4
    Leslie says:

    One of the things I love about my Nook is the ability to look up the meaning and pronunciation of words I have “bleeped over” for years while reading. (For some reason, I think that is a quote from Lucy Van Pelt.) Only today, while reading Lady Eve, I looked up obsequies and inchoate; much better than scribbled words in the back of books waiting until I was near my dictionary. Thanks, Grace.

  5. 5
    Carol Buxton says:

    This is my frist time to enter your contest. When it’s a book giveaway, I usually have the book. So, let someone else win it. I hope this will be my lucky day because I don’t have the book! Lady Jenny’s cover is so beautiful!

  6. 6
    Kim says:

    Please continue with your rich and varied vocabulary! I love words – and enjoy coming across new and rare words in your books!

  7. 7
    Nan Hatch says:

    I commend to your attention the game “Free Rice” at http://www.freerice.com

    Lots of fun, good works, plus you get to learn things!

  8. 8
    Cheryl Crenshaw says:

    I just started reading MacGregor’s Lady and I am asking myself what I missed. When did Asher return from Canada? I went back through my Kindle to look at the previous books for this series and do not see it. What am I missing? Please post your reply on facebook as my email is down at this time. I haven’t read much into the book so maybe I’m jumping the gun for an explanation. Love your books and haven’t missed a one. Thanks. Cheryl

  9. 9
    CJ Wyckoff says:

    If one can have obsequious servants and other minions, one should also be able to have obligatory obsequies. In context, the meaning would be perfectly clear.
    I’m for doing all we can to keep in use the rich variety of words and meanings that English provides. Thanks for keeping up the good work–and the good words.

  10. 10

    I am always checking the spelling or definition of words that I am unfamiliar with or do not know! I especially appreciate that my NOOK lets me check on words as I read!
    Sue