Word of the Day: Ephemeral

Word of the Day

The word of the day for today is ephemeral. Ephemeral, according to www.dictionary.com, can be used as an adjective or as a noun. As an adjective, it can mean 1. “lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory,” or 2. “lasting but one day.” As a noun, it can mean “anything short-lived, as certain insects.” However, while in that last sense ephemeral may be used as a noun, it might be more understandable to think of it as a substantive adjective. A substantive adjective is an adjective that seems to stand in place of the noun, or, to think of it another way, the adjective in an elliptical noun phrase where the noun is left out because it is understood. For instance, when Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11 [NIV]), we understand that the noun modified by poor is people, even though the noun does not actually appear in the sentence. In the same way, if we say, “The Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) is an ephemeral,” the noun flower is understood to be what ephemeral is modifying.

According to www.etymonline.com, ephemeral first appears in English in the “1560s; see ephemera + -al (1). Originally of diseases and lifespans, ‘lasting but one day;’ extended sense of ‘transitory’ is from 1630s.” Ephemera comes in during the “late 14c., originally a medical term, from Medieval Latin ephemera (febris) ‘(fever) lasting a day,’ from fem. of ephemerus, from Greek ephemeros ‘daily, for the day,’ also ‘lasting or living only one day, short-lived,’ from epi ‘on’ (see epi-) + hemerai, dative of hemera ‘day,’ from PIE *Hehmer ‘day.’” The linguistic process leading to the semantic change from a strictly medical term that meant “lasting only one day” to a more generally applicable term meaning “lasting only a short time of indeterminate length” is called broadening or generalization (or expansion or extension, though I prefer broadening because the opposite of it is narrowing).

On this date 28 years ago, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Союз Советских Социалистических Республик) voted itself out of existence through the Supreme Soviet, the chief legislative body of the USSR. It was, in a sense, a merely formal gesture since the various republics had all seceded from the USSR. The Supreme Soviet, in its declaration, recognized the independence of the various republics and created the Commonwealth of Independent States, though not all the republics signed onto it. The day before the official dissolution, Mikhail Gorbochev resigned as the leader of the Soviet Union and handed over the keys to the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal to the Russian president, Boris Yeltsin.

Because so much good stuff has been written about the Soviet Union, I’m going to quote a couple of things at length. First, from an article written in 2016 by Richard Ebeling:

“It has been calculated by Russian and Western historians who had limited access to the secret archives of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the KGB (the Soviet secret police) in the 1990s that as many as 68 million innocent, unarmed men, women, and children may have been killed in Soviet Russia alone over those nearly 75 years of communist rule in the Soviet Union.

“The evil of the Soviet system is that it was not cruelty for cruelty’s sake. Rather, it was cruelty for a purpose – to make a new Soviet man and a new Soviet society. This required the destruction of everything that had gone before and entailed the forced creation of a new civilization, as conjured up in the minds of those who had appointed themselves the creators of this brave new world.

“In the minds of those like Felix Dzerzhinsky, Lenin’s close associate and founder of the Soviet secret police, violence was an act of love. So much did they love the vision of the blissful communist future to come that they were willing to sacrifice all the traditional conceptions of humanity and morality to bring their utopia to fruition” (https://fee.org/articles/the-25th-anniversary-of-the-end-of-the-soviet-union/).

Last month, Richard Lim of This American President wrote the following:

“Lenin appointed the homicidal Felix Dzerzhinsky to head up the Cheka (the secret police) with orders “to fight a merciless war against all enemies of the revolution. … We are not in need of justice. It is war now.”

“In less than a year, hundreds, if not thousands, were executed—including Nicholas II and his family. He would be the last emperor of Russia.

“In a move that prefigured Mao Zedong’s later Cultural Revolution in China, Lenin incited class warfare across the Soviet Union.

“He marked wealthy peasants, or kulaks, as enemies of the revolution and encouraged violence against them. He imposed fixed grain prices at low rates, straining peasants who already were living on the margins, seized their grain, and left them to starve.

“When the peasants began resisting, Lenin ordered government officials to torture them or apply poison gas. He specifically ordered his henchman, Josef Stalin, to be ruthless in taking grain from Tsaritsyn” (https://www.dailysignal.com/2019/11/06/russia-became-a-communist-hellhole-because-of-this-man/).

In the long history of the human race, the Soviet Union was ephemeral. Unfortunately, the desire to control others, especially if it is for the others’ benefit, is not ephemeral. Let me end with a quotation from C. S. Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals” (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/526469-of-all-tyrannies-a-tyranny-sincerely-exercised-for-the-good).

The image is of the ephemeral Marsh Marigold, provided by the U.S. Forest Service on their website.