mephistophelian, adj.


Usually I like dogear-free pages but today I’m adjusting that rule. This secondhand “Concise Macquarie Dictionary” from 1982 has just a single folded down page in its entire body. And it is no dainty fold.

On closer examination it doesn’t mark just the page, it also directs readers’ attention to a particular word:

mephistophelian, adj. crafty, cunning.

Mephistophelian, comes to us from one of the seven chief devils’ names in medieval mythology. Mephistopheles became famous for buying Faust’s soul in the German legend (1587). Two theories on the name origin:

1.  A compound from Hebrew mephitz (scatterer, disperser) + tophel (liar) from tophel sheqer (falsehood plasterer).
This explanation is the likeliest contender as the names of devils in the middle ages often came from Hebrew, according to Dr Ernest Klein (1971).

2.  A combo of three Greek words: (negation) + phós (light) + philis (loving) = “not-light-loving”.
And, yes, I’m on the Greek train because I like the possible parody of the Latin Lucifer (light-bringer, light-bearer).

If anyone knows the other six chief devils’ names, I’d love to hear of them.

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