I love words. I think that despite having feet like violin cases, I am the only person I know who once used the word ‘terpsichorean’ in a text message. Big, fat, impressive words, the fatter the better. Today, I learned a new one – linguists will smile pityingly – opsimathy. An opsimath is an individual who begins, or continues, to study or perhaps even learn new stuff late in life. The notion of being a toothless old lion and quite over the hill is both distasteful and inevitable – one still thinks of oneself as about thirty something who’d quite like to drive a Ferrari and ski the Poubelle couloir in Chamonix. Tempus, however, fugit. The word is derived from the Greek ὀψέ (opsé), meaning ‘late’, and μανθάνω (manthánō), meaning ‘learn’. Not really a surprise, I’m just being showy-offy about knowing a word or two of the language of Plato and his best student, Aristotle. As the Emperor Augustus once famously remarked “a radish may know no Greek, but I do!”
Opsimathy was once frowned upon by clever men from Oxford who ‘know all that there is to be knowed’.
It was used as a put-down with implications of feckless indolence or, more brutally, laziness, and considered less effective by them as teach us, otherwise known as “educators” derived from the Latin for ‘lead forth” as ‘any fule kno’. – thank you, Nigel Molesworth – than the mightily effective work reception class teachers do in early learning. What a gargantuan sentence that was. So sorry. This is a trend that is slowly being turned on its head. Which is really rather comforting for folk like me It seems that clubs or societies exist for us. The emergence of these “opsimath clubs” has demonstrated that opsimathy has shed much of its negative, sneering nuance, and that this approach may, in fact, be almost desirable. Oh. Nice to be so ‘woke’ innit.
Notable opsimaths include Grandma Moses, who learned to paint when she was 78. One of her paintings was sold forty five years after her death for $1.2 million. Rabbi Akiva the “Chief of the Sages” who, according to the Talmud, began studying from a place of total lack of education and illiteracy at age 40, and Cato the Elder, who learned Greek when he was 80.
Which does give me some hope. Where I live, I am basically an illiterate, even having trouble reading the Cyrillic letters. A local four-year-old does better than me. Perhaps a good start might be to learn to ask ‘how much is it to the bus station?’ in the local language.
Nevertheless, hope, as they say, springs eternal. Can’t see myself taking up fine art – my ex-wife was an artist and teacher; it was said of her that she could teach a chimp to paint. The only chimp she couldn’t teach was me.
Perhaps a new, exciting and totally different opportunity may yet present itself before the neurons, pickled in whisky, gently fail and the world simply looks benign and meaninglessly woolly.