Wondrous Words Wednesday: Margaret Visser

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

My words for this week come again from The Geometry of Love by Margaret Visser.


There are five partial tones to a Western bell’s ring: three notes in octave, one a perfect fifth above the “fundamental,” or middle, octave, and the last–the strange one–a minor third above the fundamental, giving the bell’s “voice” its complexity and unique plangency.

Plangency: n. derives from “plangent”, adj., chiefly literary (of a sound) loud and resonant, with a mournful tone.

(Bells, again, see?)


While Christian scholars worried at the chestnut, the religion of Islam arose out of Arabia.

I didn’t found any definition (nor any other example) for the phrase “worry at the chestnut”. But I found this:

an old chestnut a joke, story, or subject that has become uninteresting through constant repetition.(Also see this discussion, and this one.)

Before this sentence, the author describes the theological disputes that opposed the Roman Church and the Church of Costantinople. So I guess what she means is that they were squabbling over minor differences in content (and major differences about in whose hands the power should be).

Have you ever heard this phrase? If so please share.


(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)


9 comments on “Wondrous Words Wednesday: Margaret Visser

  1. I think that, in French, we use an other fruit … des prunes -plums- when we want to talk about things without importance…

  2. @ Annie: des prunes? Thanks for sharing that!
    @ all: thanks for stopping by! So no one seems to have heard of the old chestnut before… *thinks* will have to look some more for a clearer explanation! 🙂

  3. The phrase “that old chestnut” just means any subject, or joke as you said, that has been done to death. Something that’s been discussed so much that it’s become cliche or ridiculous. I’ve heard it many times; it’s British slang. So what the author is saying is that the two churches were too busy with the same tired arguments they’d been slinging at each other for several centuries to notice that Islam was looming–or to be effective as churches generally, for that matter.

  4. I know about that usage of chestnut. “Oh no, not that old chestnut, again.” Seems like I’ve always known so I think my parents must have used it. I also think I’ve seen it used to imply fretting over some thing that has long ago been settled and done.

  5. Thank you both! Actually this meaning, “fretting over something already settled”, is one that I didn’t find on dictionaries. “Something that’s been discussed so much that it’s become ridiculous” is probably the one that applies best, because the two churches were discussing something at the core of faith itself, so it was not anything to be taken lightly. Still, it was more about the power play than the content itself, I guess, so it was no good continuing to go again and again over the same subject.
    Thank you for contributing!

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