I like me a good enigma, and I’ve used that word in all sorts of connections over the years, but never thought to inquire into its etymology and various senses. Dictionaries seem to agree that the Greek ainos, ‘fable’, is the original progenitor, but others cited are Greek ainisessthai, ‘to speak allusively’, and Latin aenigma, ‘riddle’. The modern senses favor

  • mysterious
  • puzzling
  • hard to explain
  • inexplicable
  • hidden meaning or known thing concealed under obscure words or forms
  • dark saying
  • baffles understanding

Looking over my own past uses, I seem often to invoke enigma in describing something non-obvious that interests me or piques curiosity or captures my attention. An artful story is what’s required to dispel murk (or mirk). See Narrativium for the how and why.

Most dictionary senses seem to favor the textual enigma, but I’m especially drawn to visual instances, in which there’s something unresolved

Orrs Island mystery

or ???huh???
children at play

or flat-out puzzling

This morning in the Back 40

or ambiguous and suggestive of multiple possible readings

the morning after the night before

or just plain weird


Edward Gorey on writing:

…the way I write, since I do leave out most of the connections, and very little is pinned down, I feel that I am doing a minimum of damage to other possibilities that might arise in a reader’s mind. (New Yorker Dec 12 2018)

Photographers who traffic in enigma and abstractions of various kinds, and/or explore Buddhist and Taoist notions of the contemplative owe a lot to Minor White. Herewith some of my thoughts from more than a year ago: Major Minor.

2 thoughts on “enigmata

  1. Kurt Misar

    Going back to listen to some of your music in a moment. But, since I am at a place where I can post, am leaving a note that I was cruising through your blog. Decided to digress after a long day of work, tackle more of my family tree and was editing through stacks of information sent me via the late (I just learned) Audrey Stanowski. I am Jean Misar-Bennet-Lewis’ second son, a Misar: Kurt. Though my Ancestry.com tree is horrifically too large, I keep tinkering with it to try to get things just right. (An anal-retentive trait not uncommon among composer-arrangers.) I know you know this branch as I have your April 2008 letter reporting on my aunt Meryl. Anyway, I am slowly going through pages and just got to your more reasoned and accurate reports, so decided to see if you were still living and breathing. Glad to see, it appears you still are. I really have nothing to say or report other then to acknowledge that you are occasionally thought of from a distant side of the family tree, on the other side of the continent. I also don’t want to labor writing here, as I am anxious to go see what you’re doing with music. Hope your family is well and perhaps, as the holiday allows, we’ll trade a few updates. All the best, Kurt.


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