An Ill Wind Blowing… Inspiration

One of my uncles was a physician, and when he first used the word “flatus” around me and my siblings, the hilarity was endless. While not the word’s primary definition, flatus can refer to an accumulation of air or gas in the bowels or stomach, a fart by any other name. My brothers started hurling new insults as result of this addition to their vocabularies, flatus-face among them. Such creativity runs in my family… I had occasion to recall Uncle Jay-Jay’s delicate term when I came across a close verbal cousin, afflatus.

Afflatus n. from the Latin for a blowing or hissing (Latin, afflatus serpentis): 1. a breathing out, hissing. Or,

2. the miraculous communication of supernatural knowledge; hence, also, the imparting of an over-mastering impulse, poetic or otherwise; inspiration.

1665    J. Spencer Disc. Vulgar Prophecies 54   Those writings being inspired by‥a more gentle and easie afflatus.
1782    J. Priestley Inst. Relig. I. 245   Orpheus said ancient poets wrote by a divine afflatus.
1865    D. Livingstone & C. Livingstone Narr. Exped. Zambesi xxiv. 497   A migratory afflatus seems to have come over the Ajawa tribes.

Both flatus and afflatus are old words, in circulation in the 1700s, but I don’t know as I’ll ever have a chance to put them to use by one of my historical characters. No matter how appropriate the terms might be in a given scene, if I use them, in the back of my mind I’m going to hear my brother Tom, his tone laden with glee while he lambastes a younger sibling for being such a flatus-brain.

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2 comments on “An Ill Wind Blowing… Inspiration

  1. Surely one of the young Wyndham brothers flung flatus-face at his siblings. Which one you would most likely know as the family chronicler. This post brings Her Grace to mind, a cup of tea in hand, reminiscing about hearing such a thing from one of his Grace’s progeny whence they did not know she was in hearing range…

  2. My dad recalls overhearing my adolescent brother hanging out with his buds at an age when one aspires to be cool, and generally fails. One of the guys was trying to convey a situation of great stress by telling his friends, “The wolf was at the f’ing door. It was bad. Biggest f’ing wolf you ever saw…” There followed much bro-speak about how big the f’ing wolf was, how much it could have eaten at once, how big its scat would be… there is nothing like the young male animal for entertainment.
    To this day, my dad can’t tell the story without laughing.