Creeped out by “Devotion”


This is my entry in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (MWWC), the theme is “Devotion”. See for further details here. Boy, it sure was a challenge for me this time! :)

Blame it on my five years of Latin in high school, but when I hear the word “devotion” I think first and foremost of the Latin term: devotio. Its meaning has shaped my uneasy relationship with the word.

My Stowasser dictionary (the classic Latin-German dictionary for over a century) gives the following translations for devotio:

1. vow, self-sacrificing;
2.a. curse, 2.b. magic;
3. prayer, dedication (to God), humble request.

Not exactly stuff that is right up my alley. The term stems from the verb devovere, which creeps me out even more:

1. to vow, designate, consecrate as a sacrifice;
2. to sacrifice one self, to suffer the death of sacrifice;
3. to make vows, to curse, to bewitch;
4. surrender, relinquish, divulge.

You may notice that it is a decidedly religious term in Latin, that it is tied to sacrifice, death, surrender and even witch craft. Not all of these components come to our mind when we think of the word “devotion”, which I consider more to be a determination to do or achieve something. It may include some sacrifice because if we really, really want something or devote ourselves to a cause, it might have repercussions…but suffering death as a sacrifice? Seriously? Who of us is actually willing to pull that stunt?

The intro by this issue’s challenger, SAHmelier (congrats on your winning entry again, I really LOVED the story!), stressed the “good” ideas we might have about devotion: hard work, love, children. We can all subscribe to them, but do we need this term? Devotion has a decidedly religious, sacred note, yes, even a succumbing or subjecting note, and I am not fond of either of these expressions. I am not a religious person. Maybe that is why I am not fond of the term. It is so absolute, so resolute, so strong. I tend to veer to the middle, I dislike strong expressions of knowing better, of doing being better, of attaching religious meaning to something I do…and devotion has this ring to it. I am also very weary of subjecting anyone or anything to someone else, and as I pointed out, it also implies that.

I am also a generalist, always have been. I like to dabble in a lot of things, a lot of ideas, and while I like to dig for a while, I usually get bored before I dug too deep to get obsessed with something. Riesling might be one of the few exceptions, although I hardly see myself as a devotee because seriously: When am I ever suffering from my love for Riesling?

Don’t get me wrong: There are people that devote their lives, in the best sense of the word, to a cause, to a person, and I admire them. But the causes need to be deep, they need to matter on a grander scheme, they have to relate to existential problems for me to count. Plus: It has to be meaningful and helpful to others, not just the person doing it (remember, there is a sacrifice component in the term, and mere self-sacrifice for no higher good does not count). I find it hard to see that in wine, especially in me consuming it…if the word is to have any meaning, it needs to be special, and us using it for rather trivial pursuits deprives the word of its meaning.

But you may argue: Don’t winemakers at the Mosel, or in the Douro, where prices are low, work is incredibly hard, and one can legitimately ask oneself why they do it, don’t they show devotion? Maybe. But they also show determination. A term I like better (the Latin word determinatio means “boundary”, “designation”, “conclusion”), it is about the end, not a pseudo-sacred meaning. Our “devotions” don’t need a sacred connotation to matter.

However, one of the beauties of devotio is that it is both: vow and bewitching, consecration and curse. That might be the true essence of the word, and I believe that winemakers that work in difficult conditions can attest to this. The things we subscribe our lives to are a curse and a blessing, they are never just good or just bad.

Wow, this became a rambly semantic post, and I hope I didn’t turn anyone off with it. But I just couldn’t get a grasp on the topic, and once I started thinking about why that was, I figured it might be worth sharing my misgivings, my uneasiness, my immediate shying away from “devotion” as a term.

Now go and devote or determine or dedicate yourself to a good bottle of wine. I plan on doing just that! :) It’s Wine Wednesday after all…

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32 thoughts on “Creeped out by “Devotion”

  1. SAHMmelier says:

    You and Anatolia were on the same page. I guess it was an issue of denotation vs connotation. Perhaps I should’ve gone with the equally off-putting and Valentine cliche romance? But, why do we (some of us) celebrate V day? A rather disturbing tale of devotion, no? Cheers and well done.

    • While I have problems with the word devotion, I have no issues whatsoever with romance because it does not carry that religious/zealous undertone. While I would never describe myself as a romantic, I do see it work for and in many people…

      Why people think they need a prescribed day to celebrate their relationship that has nothing to do with their own story completely eludes me…but then again so does “National Wine Day” or “National Hot Dog Day” or, don’t get me started, Mother’s Day (my mother hates, hates, hates that day).

      The cynic in me sees them as pure marketing toils (just like American women are being told through ads from a young age that they should expect a diamond when they get engaged). Yikes. Every love is unique, and so should be its expressions.

      Which brings me to my conclusion: For those for whom devotion works, they should express their love that way. It’s just not for me. :)

  2. […] Creeped Out by Devotion by The Winegetter […]

  3. You must be a lawyer or something. ;)

    But I do appreciate what you’re saying–and I agree. Devotion ought to be a word reserved for something truly worthy of sacrifice. As much as my true love appreciates food and wine, he would never say that he has devoted to the pursuit of fine eating/drinking. Yes, he has spent a lot of time enjoying it. But devotion isn’t about doing what we enjoy. It’s about doing that which we are willing to commit the very essence of our lives and our beliefs to.

    Well done.

    • Hahahaha, thank you, Tracy!! I would not have thought we would not be on the same page on this, but it is still a nice reminder. Thanks for weighing in!!

      • Oh, we’re on the same page, but I can see why that would surprise you.

        The outward forms of religious devotion–the gestures and practices, especially those of medieval piety which involve the purposeful infliction of suffering–creep me out, too.

        We could have a long, interesting, and probably entertaining discussion about this complex topic.

        • Dang, as I feared my double negative construction was confusing….it was late when I wrote it. I was trying to express that I was not surprised we were on the same page. I know how you care about words and therefore I could not imagine us to differ on this subject.

          But thanks for clarifying your position!!!

  4. […] of the word “devotion” – yes, the linguistic analysis. Oliver did it it perfectly in his post for the #MWWC7, as he was struggling with the theme in pretty much the same way as I did. Oliver […]

  5. Kaufman's Kavalkade says:

    Yes, the official definition has a different connotation doesn’t it. haha.

  6. I like semantics. Like you said on my own entry, it’s good to know I was not the only one having “ethical” problems with the theme. Great post !

  7. Somewhere in your translations of devotion I think I found my Valentines Day verse :) Well done sir.

  8. I swore to myself that I would participate this month, but this topic really is a tough one. I guess I’m ok with sacrifice and religious connotations, but the best connection between wine and the word is what you brought up – devotion of the winemaker.

    But don’t sell yourself short, this was a great read.

  9. talkavino says:

    Excellent post, Oliver. But now, after reading yours, I’m pretty much with nothing to write on my own, as I have exactly the same problems with the meaning of “devotion” (it has deeply religious connotations to me, and that is where it breaks for me) – I was planning to ramble for a bit on the meaning of the word to see where I will end up, but now that plan is busted :) Back to the [th][s]inking board…

    • Anatoli, that’s why I try not to read the other entries before I write mine….but I am glad that you are as troubled by the topic as I am. In English they say “Great minds think alike”, in German we say “Two stupids, one thought”….pick which one you prefer. In any case I like being in your company.

  10. chef mimi says:

    Hahaha! A great post!

  11. Barrister, as a scholar you are used to seeing and using words in a more concrete way. I do agree that I could not wrap myself around the word, without the fear of sounding like I was proselytizing, but I will also agree that I needed a glass of wine (or two) after finally writing my essay.

  12. ksbeth says:

    i was raised catholic, and spent many years in catechism, before deciding to go my own way. devotion as a term tends to be a bit off putting to me as well. i prefer: dedication (to something, to someone, to what you believe in, to what you do). it’s a more positive word for me -great post.

    • I was raised Catholic as well, maybe that is why we have some similar inclinations here… I like dedication as well, although its Latin root is just as sacred-heavy as devotion. :) Thanks for stopping by, as always!

  13. foxress says:

    Interesting analysis of the word. It looks like you devoted quite a bit of time to it!

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