These are a few of my favorite words, Part XVIII

Thursday September 22, 2011 @ 04:31 PM (UTC)

Deuxième Edition Française!

In rewatching Amélie recently, one of my two favorite films of all time, I was struck afresh by the word ‘accabler’. It’s one, like our old friend bouleverser, that I reach for in English conversation and whose lack stymies me utterly.

It means ‘weighed down’ or ‘borne down’, but it’s often used figuratively: in Amélie, the heroine imagines Paris “accablé de chagrin” (crushed by woe) at her funeral. The same Greek root, taken as spoils of war by the Romans, gives rise to the French word ‘câble’ (for once, exactly what you think it is, English speaker). I always imagine the burdens not just weighing someone down, but as impossible to escape — connected to them with chains, like the tail of Marley’s ghost. The closest I’ve come in English is ‘encumbered’. Not just crushed but hampered and bound. How many things are figuratively fixed to us in just such a way!


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