Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dust Off Your Lustrum

In the vintage John Wayne-Katharine Hepburn film Rooster Cogburn, the local federal judge tells U. S. Marshal Cogburn that he has served the court almost “two lustrums.” Cogburn is understandably puzzled (as was I) until the judge explains that a lustrum is a period of five years.

It’s a Latin word, as you undoubtedly recognize, denoting an ancient Roman animal sacrifice that was customary between 566 B.C. and 74 A.D., following the taking of a census. Intended as an act of purification for the Roman populace, lustrum most likely derives from luere (“to wash”), a verb akin to the synonymous lavere, which survives in lavatory and other English words.   

The Roman censuses were taken at five-year intervals, so the term lustrum evolved to mean “a period of five years.”

It would be a fine thing if the Bard of Buffalo Bayou took some time off lasting two or three lustra, or maybe more, but no such luck!  Fearing he might lose his quickly fading luster, he bounces back every week, like a demented ping-pong ball.

         Once, or maybe twice, in a lustrum,
         Too much wine puts me in a flustrum,
         And when I feel gaga,
         At the end of the saga
         I fall down face-first in Ligustrum.  


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