Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus
Good grief, what a name. I just can’t see calling him Desi for short. No wonder he went by Erasmus. I thought for a long time that he was one of those rare individuals that could simply go by one name, like Cher or Sting. Who knew that the rest of his name was a nightmare? I mean Erasmus is still unusual. If you casually drop the name in public places, the discourse stops immediately. Everyone has heard of him, nobody knows what he has written.
Well, almost nobody. Usually someone will say, “Oh, I read him in college!”. Try to press on and ask, “what do you remember?”, will usually draw knitted brows.
Well, ha! I have a ready solution. Yes, he wrote about the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. He also wrote On Free Will, The Praise of Folly, Handbook of a Christian Knight, On Civility in Children, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style, Julius Exclusus, and many other treatises. He was prolific. He was most of all, a man of letters.
If you were anyone of note during his lifetime, he wrote you a letter. Sort of a literate “groupie”. Back to my solution, if you were ever to mention Erasmus in public it would be hard to weigh in with your own take of “the Praise of Folly”. Not exactly Book of the Month material. Instead, you may mention his “Adagia”. Something he wrote and edited up to the very end of life.
“Adagio” is his ongoing collection of proverbs and phrases. Now, that’s a fun guy! Ben Franklin must have loved him. I would go to a party with Erasmus in the corner explaining “the dog is in the manger” or “more haste, less speed”.
The conversation could go on for hours!!
I’m not sure what possessed him to collect these little word packages, today they could be “sound bites”, but he was very diligent. He first published a list of about 800 phrases, by the time of his death in 1536, his list was over 4,000 entries.. Wow, “one step at a time”, “out of tune”, “a point in time”, and “a cough for a fart”.
“A cough for a fart”??? WTF? I dunno, I just stopped dead when I read this. Erasmus was most definitely a Man of Letters, but what was he reading? I’ve been known to some eclectic reading lists, but I can safely say that I have never come across this phrase. I’m not even sure what it means.
The best I could surmise is that if you happen to “pass gas” in public, well, one thing you can do is cough. Hmm. Better than blaming everyone else, or acting as if you had just been assaulted. “A cough for a fart”, short hand for a clever distraction?
I dunno, maybe it would be better to leave Erasmus out of polite public conversation. Too much explaining to do!