What’s a henid?

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: henid.

I love learning new words! Some writers — such as Alice Gregory — make the task  especially easy by including definitions of unusual words, directly in the text.

In an April 6/15 New Yorker article, headlined “Dear Diary, I Hate You,” Gregory reflects on the writing of memoirist Sarah Manguso (pictured above). Here is how she uses the word henid:

Her currency is the “henid,” the philosopher Otto Weininger’s term for the half-formed thought.

I had no idea such a compact term (only five letters!) captured the idea of a half-formed thought (18 letters). Nor had I ever heard of Otto Weininger. But some easy Internet research reveals he was an Austrian philosopher (1880 – 1903) and author of the book Sex and CharacterHe died by his own hand at the breathtakingly young age of 23. Born of Jewish parents he was nevertheless converted to Christianity and has been regarded by scholars as both antisemitic and misogynistic. (Still, I give him credit for inventing the useful word henid.)

I’m also intrigued by Sarah Manguso. An American writer who received her B.A. from Harvard  and her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she currently lives in Los Angeles. I intend to read her memoir The Two Kinds of Decay, describing an unpredictable autoimmune disease that appeared suddenly, when she was in her twenties, wreaking havoc in her young life.

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