Monday, September 21, 2009

Not on Speaking Terms with the Dictionary Right Now

We had to read Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie for literature seminar this week and this line made me laugh out loud:

"After a time, he (Peter) fell asleep, and some unsteady fairies had to climb over him on their way home from an orgy."

I puzzled over this line for a while. Wasn't this supposed to be a children's book? If so, the whole drunken-oversexed-fairies thing didn't quite seem to fit. Part of me hoped that Barrie was doing an ahead-of-his-time Pixar-style reference. (You know, the way in Pixar movies, there are those jokes that are really there for the benefit of the parents rather than for the kids.) Even so, I didn't know quite what to make of this.

After a while, I felt compelled to look up "orgy" in the OED to see if it really meant what I thought it meant or if I was simply insane. N.B.: this whole impulse to consult the OED dates back to my high school days, when my 11th grade English teacher used to make us look up every word (except "and" and "the") in the OED when reading Shakespeare sonnets.

(Incidentally, I'm really glad I managed to find a few definitions online... can you imagine going into the NYPL and asking the librarian "Hi, I need help looking up 'orgy' in the Oxford English Dictionary. May I use your computer?" Um, embarrassing.)

Here's what I found: The word "orgy" comes from the Greek orgia which means "secret rites and revelry" (Compact OED) or "secret rites or ceremonies connected with the worship of certain deities... esp. Dionysus" (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Blah. How boring. Yes, the passage from Peter Pan now seems to make more sense for a children's book, but I'm still disappointed. I was rather amused about the prospect of drunken, oversexed fairies. That's why I'm not on speaking terms with the dictionary right now.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! I also wondered about that word when reading Peter Pan. By the way, you can access the OED through The New School's library website. So next time there's some embarrassing word you need to look up, you can do so from the privacy of your own home. :o)