Words of Others | Going A Round With Widdershins

As I mentioned last week, I read William Gibson's most recent trilogy last month. Gibson really has a way with words. This passage, in the first chapter of the third book, Zero History, was very nice. It also included an unknown word. Cabinet is the name of a private hotel:

  • "From the Cabinet side, now, down the stairs with the widdershins twist, cascaded the sound of earnest communal drinking, laughter and loud conversation bouncing sharply off unevenly translucent stone, marbled in shades of aged honery, petroleum jelly, and nicotine."

The American Heritage Dictionary defines widdershins as: "In a contrary or counterclockwise direction." The OED offers a broader, more interesting, definition: "Moving in an anticlockwise direction, contrary to the apparent course of the sun (considered as unlucky or sinister); unlucky, ill-fated, relating to the occult." (The OED also offers the alternate spelling withershins. I like widdershins better.)

The AHD etymology: "Middle Low German weddersinnes, from Middle High German widersinnes, from wider, meaning back (from Old High German widar) + sinnes, meaning in the direction of (from sin, meaning direction , from Old High German."