Word of the Month: Librettist

David Zapatka

Commenting on the January WOTM column, reader Tom from Arlington, Va., writes, “Here’s a Washington Post article where your word of the month ‘jeremiad’ is used by the paper’s reporter Michael Scherer. In this case, the reporter uses it to describe the words of the chairman of the Nye County Republican Party in Nevada which was posted last Friday on the organization’s official website. It’s a good example of its use in politics, and this time from the right.” The jeremiad drew a rebuke from Michael Ahrens, the communications director for the Republican National Committee, who called it “deranged and wildly irresponsible.”

Commenting on the February WOTM column, reader, friend, and avid fellow bridge player Maria Davis writes, “I enjoyed your column this month on the word ‘sublime.’ The usage of the word seems to have evolved over time. I remember a Joseph Campbell piece on the sublime, where the meaning was closer to the original meaning of the word ‘awesome,’ which has also evolved. Here is a brief quote from Campbell on the sublime.” There’s another emotion associated with art, which is not of the beautiful but of the sublime. What we call monsters can be experienced as sublime. They represent powers too vast for the normal forms of life to contain them. An immense expanse of space is sublime … you’re climbing, until suddenly you break past a screen and an expanse of horizon opens out, and somehow, with this diminishment of your own ego, your consciousness expands to an experience of the sublime. — Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers (p. 222)

Thank you for your comments, Tom and Maria. I have fond memories of watching Joseph Campbell’s Power of Myth series on PBS decades ago.

W. H. Auden, the famous Anglo-American poet who wrote “The Unknown Citizen” in 1939 (a poem that may ring even more true in today’s environment than it did 80 years ago) among other notable works, was also an accomplished librettist.

Librettist – noun li·bret·tist /ləˈbredəst/ Someone who writes the lyrics or dialogue in an opera, musical, oratory, ballet, or cantata. Libretti, or texts, are produced by a librettist and accompany a musical performance. A librettist requires talent in both music and words, as (s)he is expected to work in both verse and plain speech. “The opera’s librettists borrowed freely from the original play.”

Origin and Etymology – from Italian libretto, diminutive of libro “book,” from Latin liber (genitive libri)

First Used – 1862.

Librettist in the news – There will be a premiere of a virtual choral piece featuring the Fort Worth Opera Chorus’ 42 singers and Frontiers featuring Pulitzer Prize- winning librettist Mark Campbell. — Shannon Sutlief, Dallas News, “Fun things to do this month in Dallas-Fort Worth — online, outdoors and more,” 26 Nov. 2020

Please submit your experiences and any thoughts on this month’s column or any word you may like to share, along with your insights and comments, to [email protected].