Call It “Hom-o-nock-a-lus” Again And I’m Going To Smack You

So there I am, playing a little Nemesis mini-masters, safe from the allergens floating around outside just waiting to plague me, when my opponent slaps down a 1/1 blue creature and announces that he has cast a“Sneaky Hom-uh-NOCK-ah-lus.” And this virtually drives me to an apoplectic fit of rage. I want to reach across the…

So there I am, playing a little Nemesis mini-masters, safe from the allergens floating around outside just waiting to plague me, when my opponent slaps down a 1/1 blue creature and announces that he has cast a“Sneaky Hom-uh-NOCK-ah-lus.”

And this virtually drives me to an apoplectic fit of rage. I want to reach across the table, grab him by his lapels and shake him like a British nanny.“It’s‘ho-MUN-kyoo-lus,’ dammit! Ho-MUN-kyoo-lus!!” I want to scream in my best Sam Kinison impression.“Say it right! Say it! SAY IT!!”

Now, I didn’t actually do that (otherwise I’d be writing this from the county lockup), but it’s now well known you can rile ol’ Dave here by mispronouncing that particular word. So, now, I hear“hom-o-NOCK-a-lus,”“hoe-moe-NUKE-you-lus” and just about every other incorrect permutation of the word. It used to be“duh-JINN” instead of just“JINN” (the“d” is supposed to be silent in the word), but now the Sneaky Homunculus is what sets off all the bells and whistles in the linguistics section of my warped little mind.

(By the way, a“homunculus,” if you didn’t know, is a“little man,” from the root Latin word homin, the diminutive of homo, human. A dwarf could be accurately described as a homunculus, and it’s also a reference to a magical being created within a test tube or beaker for all you D&D freaks out there. It’s a horribly arcane word, so arcane that you can’t find it in most dictionaries these days. Don’t ask me how I know this stuff. I just do. It’s a gift.)

We all have our pet peeves. Little things that drive us and only us bonkers, like leaving lights on when there’s no one in the room or leaving the mail stacked just so on the dining room table. In my case, it’s the incorrect spelling and pronunciation of English verbiage. Well, that, and certain people (you know who you are!) who like to play with misprinted German Forests that have the artwork of Plains cards to try and be sneaky. But that’s neither here nor there.

I think it’s because I come from a long line of English teachers. If I ever pronounce a word wrong or throw an“ain’t” into a conversation, my mother will give me the stinkeye faster than you can say“antidisestablishmentarianism.”

But that upbringing brought to me a passion for the English language and it’s panoply of language. I love to work in big and obscure words whenever I can (like panoply). In my line of thinking, why use a plain ordinary word like“big” when I can throw out gems like“humungous” and“elephantine.” That’s the beauty of the English language. From it’s Old High German roots, it’s incorporated elements of the Romance languages to become the unwieldy hodgepodge of words it is today, so much so that it’s one of the hardest languages to learn among the non-English speaking peoples of the world (“I am getting the silent consonant part, but what is this‘i before e except after c’ crap?”)

I know I’m rambling here, but this leads me to one of the things I truly love about Magic. If you hadn’t guessed by now, one of my hobbies is word etymology. I love to research and discover the origins of words and phrases, like“homunculus.” And if you haven’t noticed, Magic is chock full of language both obscure and arcane. It educates and entertains. It’s the original“infotainment” game.

For example, take the Citanul Hierophant from Urza’s Saga. An otherwise unremarkable creature save for the title. I was unfamiliar with the word hierophant. Real word or one of WotC R&D’s infamous“I don’t know what to call it, let’s make something up like Llurgoyf” terms? Consulting the dictionary, I discovered that, yes, it is a word (a very arcane Greek term for a certain type of priest). Imagine that. You learn something new every day.

For those who actually played Jyhad (neé Vampire: The Eternal Struggle) years and years ago, that game was laden with arcane terminology, even more so than Magic. I knew Obfuscation (meaning hidden), but Celerity? What the hell is that? Another word I have to go look up. Now when I use it in a sentence, people think I’m talking about vegetables.

Magic is just filled with stuff like that, which tells me that R&D is really on the ball when it comes to thinking up new names to call creatures and spells.

This segues nicely into another thing I used to love about Magic cards: flavor text. I’m a Shakespeare nut. Love the Shakespeare. I try to go to Ashland as often as I can to catch the new stuff being put on by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

And there on many of my favorite Magic cards are great Shakespeare quotes, especially from Legends, which is when this game started consuming vast quantities of my otherwise unallotted money and time. Boomerang. Giant Strength. And not just Shakespeare, but other giants of literature, like Coleridge and Milton. I always loved the quote on Karakas from Emily Dickinson.

Now, of course, we have the“uber-storyline” that R&D is trying to tell in expansions, and it’s been a hit-or-miss affair. Some cards are effective, in art and flavor text, in expressing a piece of the storyline (like Renounce). Others—well, I’ll be generous and say they miss the mark somewhat.

Current flavor text generally falls into three categories: It’s either a) advancing the storyline, b) an attempt at being wistfully poetic or c) silly in a Monty Python/Mark Rosewater sense. Mogg Salvage is a good example (“Three moggs, one treasure, too bad.”). That’s actually a pretty clever pun, and Lord knows I like the clever puns.

I remember lamenting the loss of the great literary quotes from flavor text with the switch to storyline-based text when I was leafing through some Sixth Edition cards, and lo and behold, there’s my beloved Shakespeare back on the cards. O happy day, to have such words again!

I realize my passion for obscure bits of flavor text is not shared by all (or even some), but I wonder, are there any players out there who, after reading the flavor text, have been inspired to pick up any of the collected works of Shakespeare, or Milton, or Emily Dickinson? Or perhaps been inspired to research the true meaning of a card title and in doing so, expanding the reach and breadth of their knowledge.

Even if the answer is only one, that’s still one more person who has been introduced to something truly great that they might not have approached before, and that’s a very good thing.

Magic is many things to me. Hobby, outlet for my competitive passions, common interest among my friends, an outlet to show off how smart I am sometimes.

And an educational tool? I don’t see why not.

Just remember, however, if you play a Sneaky Homunculus or a Mahamoti Djinn against me…well, you’ve been warned.

Dave Meddish