Sunday, January 15, 2012

Word of the Day: “Bane”

The strength of the American television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (whose fluff-headed-sounding title was largely ironic) was the esprit de corps of the “Scoobie gang”, the band of oddly-assorted intrepid defenders  that grouped itself around the titular heroine.   The weakness was the lack of anything comparable on the opposing side -- it was mostly demon-of-the-week,  biff bam boom,    )* poof *(      --  demon allgone.  
A similar imbalance ultimately sank the initially promising series “24”:  the dedicated though sometimes snarling crew at CTU was of lasting interest, but their opponents as the series went along  were a faceless meaningless succession of villains with highly implausible or obscure motivations.

The Buffy spinoff-series “Angel”  began like that too, before finally finding its footing.   And the way it found it was by coming to realize that it takes two teams to make the game interesting.   And by realizing, what is equally crucial, that the Evil Team cannot be just some scruffy band of ruffians, but must be on a par with the Good Guys in terms of coherence, polish, and dedication:  and what better embodiment of such slick sickness  than a modern big-name Law Firm.
The firm in question is named  Wolfram & Hart.   The name sounds perfect just as it stands: but there is more to it, as its deeper meaning is that of wolf, ram, and hart :  three emblematic animals (a hart is a male deer) with anglo-saxon names -- words as tough and compact as a knot in oak, and taking us back to the time of the druids. 


And now we are faced with Mr. Willard “Mitt” Romney  and his band of Senior Partners over at Bain Capital.
Bain Capital …. Wait a bit.   That sounds as though it came straight from Josh Whedon’s scriptwriters.  It is entirely in the mold of “Wolfram and Hart”.  For, although there is no word “bain” in English, there is a word that sounds exactly like it, namely bane.   And it is a very old and dark word indeed.

Nowadays it is used lightly, as in “the bane of my existence” (i.e., one’s bête noire);  but originally the word meant ‘murderer’ and later ‘poison’.  The latter sense survives in such richly redolent botanical names as henbane (known also as stinking nightshade, and used in witches’ brews) and wolfsbane (source of a deadly poison with mystical uses).   It is with a memory of such background  that the word appears (in Miscellaneous Amatory Preludes) describing the plight of one in love with a maiden most jealously guarded:

No there  wás nó vénom  in  one  so  young:
this sickness  springs from the cure of it,
from the baneful breath of the blamers.

Here ‘baneful breath’ is literally ‘toxic breath’, and alludes to the noisome effect -- well-known to knights of old -- of the breath of dragons.

So -- “Bain Capital”.  Coincidence?   Or one of those intricate synchronicities which hint, from within the tangled and chaotic threads of our experience here below, at a pattern on the other side of the carpet?

[Update 16 III 2012] You couldn't make this stuff up:


  1. Sometimes, it is easier to perceive the pattern on the other side of the carpet than it is to discern coherence on this side. Thanks for this. Well played.

  2. It is *always* easier to perceive the pattern of the carpet from its upmost and proper side. The wonder and depth of the metaphor of the "underside of the carpet" (a metaphor I met in the works of C.S. Lewis, though it may antedate him) derives from the fact that, incarnated in this mortal life, we do not have *access* to the proper side, but see things, in the words of blessed St. Paul, "through a glass darkly": and yet, for all that, the mad scramble of thread-ends underneath does give a hint of what it all means, as seen from Paradise.
    For more on this, cf. our more recent post "Patterns, Overt and Cryptic".
    Be well and God bless.