February 9, 2007


peripatetic n. /per ri pu TET' ik/ 1 travelling from place to place.
2 working or based in a succession of places.
— DERIVATIVES peripatetically adverb.
— ORIGIN Greek peripatetikos ‘walking up and down’.
--Compact Oxford English Dictionary

"A Peripatetic President," runs one headline in the January 25, 1989 New York Times: "Election Over, He Runs." What the accompanying article, a searching piece of journalism, describes is President George Bush's now famous decision to take an afternoon jog, reporters and photographers in tow, mere days after assuming office. This whimsical event was taken to characterize the man: according to reporter Maureen Dowd, Bush "has seemed in perpetual motion since the election.
"In perpetual motion" is a good equivalent of what we mean by "peripatetic," which ultimately derives from the Greek by peripatos, a courtyard for walking about, and more directly from peripatetikos "given to walking about" (not "given to jogging about"). This unwieldy and somewhat pretentious adjective would never have entered the Language but for one very famous peripatetic philosopher: Aristole. As the story goes, Aristotle was fond of pacing about in the peripatos at his Lyceum [lecture hall], a habit he passed on to later deep thinkers. His system of thought came to be named after this practice, and thus was born the Peripatetic School of philosophy.
All the early uses of "peripatetic" in English refter to Aristotle's teachings, but its potential as a humorous metaphor became obvious by the late sixteenth century. John Moore applied the term with gusto in 1617: "The devil is a Peripatetic . . . always walking and going about, seeking whom he may ensnare" (103).
--Macrone, Michael. It's Greek to Me: Brush up Your Classics. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.


1 comment:

  1. I would describe our sister as peripathetic, wouldn't you? On rare occasions, I have seen her sit, and even then, she's in constant motion talking or occupying herself in some task.