Thursday, 29 May 2014

Climax - A Greek Ladder

A ladder stretching up to the sky
Ladder to Heaven
(image by fdecomite)


Noun & verb. Mid-16th century.
[Late Latin climax from Greek klimax ladder, climax.]

A1 noun. Rhetoric. (A figure chracterized by) the arrangement of propositions or ideas
in order of increasing importance, force, or effectiveness of expression. M16

A2 noun. obsolete. An ascending series or scale. M-L18

A3(a) noun. The highest point reached; a peak of intensity or interest; a culmination. L18

A3(b) noun. The last or highest term of a rhetorical climax. M19

A3(c) noun. Ecology. The final stage in a succession, at which a plant community reaches a state of equilibrium;
a community that has attained this state. Frequently attributive. E20

A3(d) noun. A sexual orgasm. E20

B verb intrans. & trans. Come or bring to a climax. M19

Etymology can paint such marvellous pictures, imbuing words with even deeper shades of meaning and fascination. As it is with climax, which comes from the Greek klimax meaning 'ladder', perfectly portraying the ascending process of climbing toward some culmination, some goal, which is at the very pinnacle of all that came before it. And, as an added point of trivia, climax as a synonym for orgasm has only been used since around 1900, a term encouraged by the scientist and birth-control pioneer Marie Stopes as a more publicly acceptable word than orgasm.
Marie Stopes (1880-1958) working in her lab
Do please leave any comments in the box below.


  1. That ladder is made of good stuff. No sag at all.

    1. I only get photos of the best quality ladders for Lexicolatry ...

  2. In Modern Greek "climax" is used as "klimaka" and it usually means "scale". The word for ladder and staircase is "scala".

    1. So, Evi @ Sexta-feira (if that is your real blog), are you saying the OED is wrong on this one?

    2. Oh no, not at all! I didn't make myself clear. (I guess...)
      I started my comment by saying "in MODERN Greek". "Climax" was used to mean ladder in katharevousa and probably earlier on. My comment was meant to demonstrate how the current version of Greek uses climax as scale and scala as ladder. Oh, never mind...

      Sorry for the confusion my comment caused Eddie @ Lexicolatry. (It is my real blog, come check it out. This is an official invitation)

    3. It's no coincidence that the climax of a piece of music usually comes after someone has ascended a scale.
      Oh, and from what I can remember Marie Stopes was a doctor of paleobotany and an expert in coal balls. But not much else.

    4. I confess I had to Google 'coal balls', Sally, and it was ... well ... exactly what one would expect.