In a Word: Euhemeristic

February 14, 2011|By John McIntyre, The Baltimore Sun

Each week, The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. Use it in a sentence in a comment on his blog, You Don't say, and the best sentence will be featured next week. This week's word:


Everyone loves a hero, and that love frequently translates into an adulation that erases the little imperfections, faults, unfortunate decisions, and bad behavior that turn up when one looks too close. The extreme outcome of this tendency is to ascribe divinity to the hero, and, as usual, we have a word for that.

Euhemeristic (you-HEM-ur-ISS-tik) refers to the process of attributing the origin of god to the deification of human heroes. Thus the Vikings' Odin can be explained as some actual great warrior who over time and retelling assumed his place in Valhalla.

It was Euhemerus, in the fourth century, who explained mythological accounts as actual historical events shaped over time by storytelling, and gave his name to the process, euhemerism.

Example: So if Fox News runs enough euhemeristic accounts of Sarah Palin, in time to come she may become the divine patroness of grizzlies, or perhaps an actual divine grizzly, as John Kennedy by euhemeristic translation already sits enthroned in that celestial Camelot for which so many frayed Democrats of my generation still sigh.

From last week: Reflecting on exiguous, matbat commented:

Um, oh, hm, er. Rattling the exiguous tiles in the Scrabble bag, I vainly tried to recall the permitted two-letter words.

And the irrepressible ddfairchild wrote:

The lumberjack, always assiduous, Would chop down both pines and deciduous. So when he was done With his clear-cutting fun, The forests were somewhat exiguous.

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