Vest-Pocket Vocabulary

Xen’ium, n. a gift to a stranger.

Word in the Wild: A charitable donation is a xenium and a sign of true generosity.

According to the OED xenium, at least in Greek and Roman antiquity, more accurately meant a gift to a guest or stranger, so in that sense there are still some examples of xenia around these days: goody bags at children’s parties and centrepieces at weddings come to mind.

Later on, in mediæval times, xenia weren’t gifts given to just any old stranger or visitor, but more specifically gifts given by subjects to visiting princes and landholders. You might think that this custom is now extinct, but I’m sure it must be directly connected to the bottle of wine we apartment dwellers give our landlords each New Year with the hope that they will continue to promptly attend to any plumbing woes that may beset us in future.

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