More dictionary fun

I was continuing my journey through McKeon’s Origin of the English Novel when I stumbled on an interesting thing. Defoe evidently in one of his works made the argument that romance was descended from the word Roman, because the Romans were believers in myth and superstition, hence the exaggerations of romance could be traced to them. Of course, McKeon notes that this is a false etymology. It dawned on me that in one of the survey courses I took, a professor (a Modernist) claimed much the same thing.

So, what’s the real story? Where did romance come from? It seems that according to the OED, the answer is precisely the opposite. Romance was a term that was used to separate writing in the vulgate tongue rather than Latin, and languages like French, Spanish, etc. Of course, the exaggerated tales of romance had their origins in those languages, and hence the label for that type of literature. So, romance is not Roman, it’s vulgar.

While fishing for this bit, I stumbled on some usages of the term that were new to me.

b. Similative, as romance-like adv.; and instrumental, as romance-empurpled

Romance-empurpled? I suspect that term must have fallen from use around the same time that phallic statuary became less than commonplace. I suppose you could call that an instrumental modifier. I was also quite taken by this list of 19th century variants:

romancealist, a writer of romances.
romancean a., pertaining to the period of old romances.
romanceful a., full of romance; romantic.
romanceishness, tendency towards what is romantic.
romanceless a., unromantic.
romancelet, a short romance.

I think the world needs more romancelets.