De Vaporudibus

by The Steampunk Vicar

Of all the ridiculous Difficulties posed by being a Man out of Time, and, particularly, a Neo-Victorian in this former Part of the Twenty-First Century, perhaps the greatest is how, precisely, to describe the “Steampunk” movement in Latin.

Perhaps others would be unmoved by this Travail, but as a classically educated Person, the lack of a useful Translation for many of these Concepts causes me to feel as though I can never be taken seriously by any Portion of the Academy, if I should ever be able to return to my Other World and endeavour to explain, for example, the works of Professor Elemental, or of Lindsey Stirling, etc. I somehow feel that Profs. Chaplin, Sfyroeras, and Ganiban would exhibit their Disappointment were I not to give the Matter my fullest Attention.

Thus, I thought to employ the Science of the Google. My first Outing was not fortuitous – a Search for “Steampunk Latin” yielded a rather remarkable Article on Beyond Victoriana, a Weblogue I intend to revisit in Future, but no answer to my Question. Further Inquiries provided me with this Piece by Richard Coyne, who suggests vapor communitas. I shall fault his Latin and say only mildly that perhaps vaporis communitas would more accurately convey his Meaning.

Even so, I find this an inadequate Reading of the historical and literary Layers that lie behind the word “Steampunk.” I have no Quarrel with vapor – the Oxford Latin concurs with this Gloss. It is to the Interpretation of the Word “Punk” that I take Exception. Coyne rightly points out that the Word “Punk” comes to us from early Modern English, and originally meant, among other things, a male Prostitute (one Resource I encountered used the Word “Catamite,” which I rapidly discarded from my Process, pausing only to note that it did come up). However, by the first part of the Twentieth Century, that Meaning had rather drastically altered.

I would have a difficult Time sourcing this Usage, but I was perhaps first familiar with Mirriam Webster’s third Definition, “a usually petty Gangster, Hoodlum, or Ruffian.” If pressed, I should describe the Mid-Twentieth Century Word Punk as a Descriptor for insufficiently respectful young Persons, along the lines of, perhaps, James Dean.

By the latter Twentieth Century, however, a great many social Movements had coalesced into the “Punk Subculture,” rooted in the Music (and, in many Cases, I use the Term loosely) known as “Punk Music.” This passage from Wikipedia rather elegantly quotes Jon Savage, that “Early punk had an abundance of antecedents and influences, and Jon Savage describes the subculture as a ‘bricolage‘ of almost every previous youth culture in the Western world since World War II, ‘stuck together with safety pins’.” This Amalgam of an Array of youth Cultures was then adapted and absorbed by the Science Fiction Genre which came to be known as Cyberpunk. I would submit that Steampunk was so named in direct response to Cyberpunk, adapting the culturally imaginative Storytelling typified by the Latter to the Aesthetics and historical Influences of the Former.

All of that specifically to say that while Coyne is quite right to reject the Latin that he finds in such Terms as plebs, he need not take such an easy and generic Path out of his difficulties as communitas, a Word which covers a multitude of Sins. Surely, there must be a Way to cover with more Nuance and Depth the Complexities of the Genre.

I humbly submit, therefore, the Coinage you shall find at the Heading of this Weblogue – vaporudis, vaporudis, f. The source Noun from the Latin is rudis, which denotes the wooden Sword provided to Trainees, as well as retiring Gladiators. The cognate Adjective gives meanings such as “untrained,” and “ignorant,” linking back to the original Meanings, as well as a Sense of Roughness and Crudeness. We are also spared the Horror of simple Transliteration, yielding puncus, punci, m., an irretrievably disastrous Possibility.

it is with some Hope and Pride that I submit to Coyne’s vapor communitas, a new Latin phrase: sum ille vaporudis vicarius, et hoc stabo. 

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