Every so often I come upon a word, a phrase, or a usage that particularly delights me. I then make every effort to weave it into my quotidian discourse, as a sort of garnish. A good example is "meretricious," which a long time ago I learned originally meant "falsely alluring, like a prostitute" [meretrix is apparently Latin for prostitute.] Isn't that just perfect? When someone you don't like offers an argument that you consider a crock, describing his argument as meretricious is a high-brow way of calling him a whore.
As I was playing a game of on-line Sudoku this morning before it got light enough for me to take my daily walk, I thought of one of my very favorite such terminological gems. [I am simply going to assume that you folks all know how to play Sudoku.] I have developed the following technique for solving Soduko puzzles: I carry on, deducing entries for as long as I am able, using every trick I have developed, including some pretty nifty ones. Then, if I get totally stuck, I find a binary opportunity -- a square that I know is either one number or another -- and I form the hypothesis that it is the first, tracing out all the implications of that hypothesis until I either solve the puzzle or come to a contradiction. If I hit a contradiction, I know that the original square should have been filled with the second number, not the first, so I go all the way back and insert the second number. Usually that is sufficient to enable me to complete the puzzle. I call this "hypthecating a number."
I encountered the word "hypthecate" in a wonderful book called Branches Without Roots: Genesis of the Black Working Class in the American South, 1862-1888, by the Yale economist Gerald Jaynes. Here is the passage in which, I believe, it first appears, from page 148:
"The 1866 Alabama lien law allowed a 'lien on the crop equal to the advances made by any person(s) to any person of the state.' There were two important implications of this law. First, any person with a legal claim of possession to a crop would be able to receive credit by hypothecating that crop. Second, the wording of the law allowed merchants and agents other than the employer to extend credit on the basis of a crop lien to anyone with a claim to a prospective crop."
This law, in effect, allowed share-cropping former slaves to go into debt for their food and other necessaries before the crop they were growing was actually harvested and they got their share of the proceeds. In effect, it exchanged slavery for debt peonage.
Even if you are not as enchanted by the word as I, I strongly recommend Jaynes' book for profound historical insights into the period known as Reconstruction.