26 April 2012


For this year's A-Z challenge, I'm posting juicy tidbits of researchy goodness for your interest and edification. I intend to use these as story prompts for the terrifying writing challenge Story a Day in May. You may use them however you wish.

After yesterday's mega-post, I'm keeping it super short tonight with a brief discussion of a single word: xenium.

A xenium, according to The Phrontistery, is "a gift made to a guest or ambassador; any compulsory gift." The related term, "xenial," means "of or concerning hospitality toward guests."

In Natalie Zemon Davis's book "The Gift in Sixteenth-Century France," she notes that "xenium" is a Greco-Roman term signifying "a gift to make a friend of a stranger."

Heather at The Word Blog further elaborates that in the medieval period, xenia were "gifts given by subjects to visiting princes and landholders." She adds, "You might think that this custom is now extinct, but I’m sure it must be directly connected to the bottle of wine we apartment dwellers give our landlords each New Year with the hope that they will continue to promptly attend to any plumbing woes that may beset us in future."

I see a lot of story potential in the concept of xenia. I'm wondering about the potential paradox entailed in the concept of a compulsory gift. If it isn't freely given, is it still a gift?


(By the way, if you're still looking for an "X" word, there's a list of unusual ones at the Phrontistery. I was tempted by xenogenesis until I remembered Octavia Butler already used it, and I am still interested in xanthocyanopsy.)


Catherine Stine said...

Interesting post! I happen to be a landlord (that's how I can afford to write!), and one time a guy who had just signed a lease not only offered us a bottle of wine, but offered to shovel our walk every time it snowed. Well, he turned out to be a thieving liar. He had copied down a roomate's back card # and got a fake card made. Then, he was gradually draining her acct. while sympathizing with her every time her acct. was lower! Lesson? Yes, a present that is compulsory sometimes comes with a price.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Woah, Catherine, that is quite a story. I guess it's not a bad idea to be a little suspicious of people who seem to want to do way too much for you.