Jun. 17th, 2014 03:04 pm
kirisutogomen: (chow yun-fat)
[personal profile] kirisutogomen
The WoUtNW is quintessential.

These days it means something like "most typically representative of" or "perfect example of".

(Assuming you aren't talking about the Quintessential Media Player, which is a well-regarded highly-extensible media player, freeware but with a proprietary license, and no new releases in five years. We're not talking about that.)

For example, The Winding Stories Of A Quintessential American Spy (referring to Robert Ames, the CIA field operative turned analyst, kind of a Jack Ryan if you substitute the PLO for the Soviet Union. No relation to Aldritch Ames). Or Aberdeen offers quintessential Hong Kong experience (Aberdeen is a movie named for a neighborhood in Hong Kong rather than for the city in Scotland. The Chinese title for the movie is 香港仔 which literally translates as "little Hong Kong" but which refers to the neighborhood called "Aberdeen" in English. Incidentally, the name "Hong Kong" ("fragrant harbor") originally only applied to the fishing village that occupied what is now the Aberdeen neighborhood, but due to a misunderstanding has come to refer to the entire island. So in that sense one could claim that the headline should read "Hong Kong offers quintessential Hong Kong experience".).

OK, what's up with that word, though? "Quintessential" derives from "quintessence", and what's a quintessence? Well, it's clearly an essence, but why quint? Five?

Yes, five. "Quintessence" originally meant "the fifth element". The existence of quintessence as one of the fundamental components of the cosmos was promoted by Aristotle and his intellectual heirs, all the way through medieval European alchemy.

The four classical elements in ancient Greek thought were air, fire, earth, and water; Aristotelian physics held that all things within the terrestrial sphere derived their fundamental physical properties from the properties of their underlying makeup. These terrestrial elements obeyed certain laws, such as the tendency to move in straight lines or the tendency for lighter things to move up while heavier things move down.

However, it was painfully obvious that the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars did not respect these laws; they move in circles, they don't fall down, etc. So they must be obeying a different set of laws, and as such are considered to have the qualities of a different element than the four with which we are more familiar. Aristotle called this fifth element æther, but medieval alchemists called it quintessence.

....and it turns out that I already did "quintessential" as the WoUtNW last year. Oops. I'm definitely going to remember to cross it off the list this time. In fact, why don't I go do that right now?
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