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Concinnity

Pronounced /kənˈsɪnɪtɪ/Help with IPA

My old dad once advised me never to mix the grape and the grain, a proverbial dictum that has served me well. The Romans seem not to have learned the precept, as they had a drink, cinnus, which the grammarian Hesychius of Alexandria explained was a mixture of wine, honey, water and either barley or spelt (an ancient type of wheat). I presume the grain was steeped in the wine to make a sweet alcoholic soup and not brewed into ale first, though some sources disagree.

You may hazard a guess as to its effect on the Roman constitution by one of the other senses of cinnus being of a facial distortion or grimace. The scholar Johannes Scapula wrote in 1790 that it could also mean “a promiscuous conglomeration of many things of various kinds” or as Dr Adam Littleton defined it in his Latin Dictionary of 1715, “A mingle-mangle or gallimaufry of several things together; a hotchpotch or mish-mash, a medley.” Contrariwise, Latin evolved from it the verb concinnare, to join together skilfully, which suggests some Romans must have liked the mixture.

When concinnare arrived in English in the 1530s, as concinnity, it took on only the last of these senses, a harmonious arrangement or fitting together of the different parts of something or a studied elegance of literary or artistic style. The word is now rare, though it may be found lurking in some unexpected places, ready to surprise the reader:

The decor was stylish to a point where it transcended style and entered the realms of perspicuous harmony, shunning grandiloquent ornamentation in favour of a visual concinnity, garnered from aesthetic principles, which combined the austerity of Bauhaus and ebullience of Burges into an eclectic mix before stripping them down to their fundamental essentials, to create an effect which was almost aphoristic, in that it could be experienced but never completely expressed. So there is no need to bother with a description. But trust me, it was sheer poetry.

Waiting for Godalming, by Robert Rankin, 2000.

Page created 4 Aug. 2012

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Last modified: 4 August 2012.