Draconian

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Draconian

Post by Archived Topic » Sat Dec 11, 2004 8:47 am

Because this word is often spelt without a capital 'D', I long assumed it was an adjective from 'dragon', in all senses. Having never heard of Draco, though understanding 'Dickensian' and 'Machiavellian'. Like bovine, assinine, waspish, porcine and thousands more animal adjectives (but not 'sluggish', which has nothing to do with slugs). The old oath 'slugs and 'snails' is swearing on the cross, by the way; God's lugs i.e. logs (of the cross) and God's nails.
The media love cliches, and the meek are un-newsworthy, else measures and policies might be 'ovine' or 'dovish' when not draconian or hawkish. And couldn't we just occasionally have a government described as 'struthionian', i.e. burying its head in the sand?
Submitted by John Barton (New Plymouth - New Zealand)
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Draconian

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 11, 2004 9:01 am

John, I’m not sure if you are asking for the full monty on ‘Draconian’ or do you already have it and are using this posting as a conversation opener for adjectives based on people and animals?

Ken – November 22, 2004
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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Draconian

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 11, 2004 9:14 am

Just an opener, thanks, Ken. Though I did once compile for fun a list of animal adjectives, mostly ending in -ine. Handy if you work in a zoo and want to avoid clumsy words like 'giraffish' or 'giraffe-like', in favour of (I think) camelopardine. It's probably the largest group of English words that are neither archaic nor obsolete, but almost totally unknown and unused even in science.
Reply from John Barton (New Plymouth - New Zealand)
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Draconian

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Jan 10, 2005 11:04 pm

John, Relative to your initial confusion, here is a little piece on ‘dracontology.’
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Michael Quinion’s Word Wide Words

DRACONTOLOGY: Strictly speaking, ‘dracontology’ should refer to the study of dragons. It derives from Greek ‘drakon,’ serpent (plus ‘–ology’ from a Greek ending that indicated the study of a subject). It’s a kissing cousin to the almost equally rare adjectives ‘draconiform’ and ‘dracontine,’ both of which refer to a thing like a dragon. (‘Draconian,’ of some law or punishment that is excessively severe, comes instead from ‘Draco,’ an Athenian legislator of the seventh century BC who made Attila the Hun look like a pussycat.)

However, those enthusiasts who have an interest in this specialist branch of ‘cryptozoology’—the study of animals unknown to science—have hijacked the word for the investigation of such fabulous beasts as the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland and the serpent of Lake Memphrémagog on the Quebec-Vermont border. A site devoted to the latter claims that the word was coined by “a monk at the monastery of St Benoit-du-Lac in response to a request by Jacques Boisvert, a Quebec monster enthusiast who needed a name for the specific study of lake monsters”.
That small group of researchers who use ‘dracontology’ for the study of dragons would wish that the good brother had found a less confusing term. How about ‘cryptolacustribestiology’? No? I can’t blame you—it’s almost as long as Nessie herself.
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Ken
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Draconian

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Jan 11, 2005 1:13 am

John, Since Draconian/draconian has such an interesting origin, might as well do the full monty anyway for those who may be interested.

DRACONIAN/draconian: ‘Draconian’ is still regularly used to refer to any law, measure, or rule of authority that is excessively severe, harsh, or cruel. <“Some considered his Draconian measures an overreaction, but others considered them necessary”>.

The word derives from the name of Draco (Greek ‘Drakôn), an Athenian lawgiver of the 7th century B.C., whose purpose was to reform the criminal justice system. Before Draco there was little justice in the system and magistrates generally sided with the nobility and punishment was largely meted out in the name of personal revenge. So one of Draco’s goals was to banish inequities in the system, which also were leading to rumblings and threats of rebellion. To an extent, Draco succeeded, but all he is now mostly remembered for is his apparent pathological harshness. When there were complaints about his law’s severity, he is said to have replied, “Small crimes deserve death and for great crimes I know of no penalty severer.” But some historians have a more sympathetic view of Draco and argue that his assignment wasn’t to modify the laws, but to collect and codify the old unwritten laws, which were being ignored and abused, and that he was therefore not responsible for their harshness.

About 621 B.C. Draco issued the first comprehensive written code of laws. The purpose was to mandate particular penalties for an array of crimes. The harshness of the penalties became legendary. But one thing you can say for the guy, what he may have lacked in compassion, he made up for in consistency – almost all criminal offenses, both trivial and serious, were punishable by death! I guess folks in his day might have labeled him a noncompassionate conservative and I suppose that it definitely made them think twice about jaywalking!

According to a 4th-century B.C. orator, Demades, the “Draconian Code is written in blood.” He and later authors, including Aristotle, may have exaggerated the severity of Draco’s code (now largely lost), but in 594 B.C. the Athenian statesman Solon repealed almost all of it. Solon retained Draco’s laws concerning homicide, however, which placed responsibility for justice with the state and not with the victim’s family. And it seems only fitting that Solon’s name is preserved in English (‘solon’) to be a synonym for a wise and skillful lawgiver. On the other hand, the proverbial severity of Draco’s code had resulted in ‘draconian’ being applied to various things, and not just laws, that are extremely harsh or rigid. According to one classical story, Draco died by being smothered in a shower of hats and cloaks, in what was ostensibly an expression of adulation on the part of the public – hmm.

The word Draconian is actually a relatively new one and did not appear in print until the late 19th century.
<1876 “The Swedenborgian rubrics are not so DRACONIAN.”—‘ Unorthodox London; or Phases of Religious Life in the Metropolis’ by C. M. Davies, page 97>

<1877 “Refraining from all DRACONIAN legislation.”—‘Russia’ by D. M. Wallace, xiii. page 206>

<1880 “In the course of one of these DRACONIAN [[l.c.]] performances . . . the mummer's tail came off.”—‘Daily Telegraph,’ 10 November>
(Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Merriam-Webster Book of Word Histories, Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, Oxford English Dictionary, Dictionary of Word Origins by Ayto,)
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