peels, pits, spines, and romance novels
PITHY, adj. Sometimes questions have easy answers. Today in my house, we wondered if “pithy,” as in “concise, meaningful,” is related to “pith,” as in the white stuff under the peel of a citrus fruit, and the answer is yes.
“Pith” goes all the way back to Old English (that’s why it has that lovely th in it) and the OED’s first definition is “the soft internal tissue of a plant part.” Could be a stem or a root or, as discussed, the white part of citrus peel. Pith is also the stuff inside horns and feathers and spinal canals. Relatedly, there is an old verb “to pith” that means “to kill by piercing the spinal cord.” Yikes.
In Middle English, if you said something was “pithy,” you meant it was strong or vigorous or full of life. From the 1520s onward, people use “pithy” in a more metaphorical way: substantial, meaningful. At some point, the word develops a connotation of concentrated meaning. A pithy remark is succinct. It gets right to the core of things. The pit, perhaps? I’m out of my depth when it comes to Germanic languages, so I don’t understand what historical sound change rules cause the OED to instruct us to “Perhaps compare” (emphasis mine) pith and pit, instead of just going ahead and comparing them, which I already did. But I will not pit myself against the OED.
This week in small-r romance novels, I read
The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting (m/m, both cis and gay, historical) by KJ Charles. KJ Charles is consistently delightful. An antisocial grouch, a skilled con artist with a heart of gold, an obviously ill-conceived sex pact, plus fantastic supporting characters and horrible family members getting their comeuppance. What more could you want? Content warnings from the author.
Glorious Day (lesbian f/bi f, both cis, sci-fi, novella) by Skye Kilaen. The space princess’s bodyguard is a secret traitor trying to bring down the monarchy and replace it with a democracy, but her loyalties are divided because she also really wants to kiss the princess. I especially loved the princess, who is blind and who takes advantage of everyone underestimating her to do something daring and clever. Content warnings from the author.
Saffron Alley (bi cis m/nonbinary character attracted to men, fantasy) by AJ Demas. This is the sequel to Sword Dance, discussed last week, and I loved spending more time with these characters. There is a really touching, thoughtful exploration of recovering from trauma in this. Plus at least one line that made me laugh out loud. Looking forward to more in this series. Content warnings: rape (in the past, not described), torture (in the past, not described), domestic abuse (of a supporting character), some characters make homophobic and transphobic remarks, violence, murder, sex.
Keeping it brief (pithy?) this week. See you next Sunday!