Friday, March 23, 2007

Obstreperous

Today's wotd was so totally unfulfilling, and since I missed the "b" from ostensible, I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and choose a better word that had the "b"!

Obstreperous

I use this word, not infrequently, to describe the small children who disrupt a movie with their in seat gymnastics, as well as to describe one of my more defiant moods. I never thought about why I liked this word, but I will now. It comes from the Latin "strepere" for "to make a loud noise" and the prefix "ob" meaning "against". Well, that can practically describe what I do any day in Court, or even just in my office after I read the latest Plaintiff's motion only to exclaim, "this is so stupid" so forcefully that other attorneys emerge to question me on the level of stupidity which I have encountered. It still is pretty much in line with its etymology in it usage, except we have now added "stubborn" to the definition, probably from the fact that when someone continues to be vocal against something that someone is usually unwilling to change his/her position, which may be viewed as stubborn. I suppose you could still be noisy against something as you are being hauled away by the police, and therefore, not stubborn per se (which is why some other definitions add "unruly" to the mix, but this is an unnecessary stretch), but more often than not the two actions/characteristics go hand in hand, like assault and battery (yes, I know. As I already discussed, you can have assault without the battery--threatening someone through a door, and battery without the assault--drawing on someone while they are asleep). Obviously, you can be quiet and stubborn--just remember the days when you couldn't leave the table until you finished your peas. It's unfortunate that noisy get associated with stubborn. Gives noisy a bad connotation.

But back to the use of obstreperous. The teenage boy turned on obstreperous music to drown out his parents' animadversions of his "friends". [ok, I tried, but animadversions just does not roll trippingly off the tongue, ever. Notwithstanding...] It is possible obstreperous could be used to describe inanimate and/or intangibles. Plaintiff's counsel's obstreperous theories about Defendant's negligence drew an admonition from the bench to "tone it down, Counsellor". Maybe. Plaintiff's counsel's obstreperous theatrical antics in the courtroom did not impress the jury. Yes. The dog's obstreperous barking at the burgular woke the neighbors who finally called the police. Possibly. I really think it has to be used with people or possibly people's activities, since the noise/stubborn attributes are in response to someone or something, and that requires cognitative thought. It note that all the examples given by DD were for people. The guard dog example might work only because it is in response to something which required noise and continuous noise until the situation changed, but you would never say "an obstreperous fire alarm." It is the cognitive thought of being stubborn which makes it indemic to humans. Is the guard dog being stubborn, or just waiting for someone to turn him off? Now, not to say that the little girl who was doing her best sommersault in her seat was doing this stubbornly, but the way she kept at it and kept it up was practically dogged, and therefore, I can elevate that, at least humorously if not literally, to a level of intent. After all, intent is in the mind of similarly situated individuals, so we do have to look at it from an 8-year-old's perspective. This was very clearly her commentary on a boring movie. So, my last question is what level of noise or clamoring against is required to rise to the level of obstreperous. It does not appear to be only loud noise, from the etymology, but now any such distraction as to be akin to noise. The Plaintiff's obstreperous eye-rolling and huffing at my questions which he though were not "the important ones" did not motivate me to change my line of questioning. Ok, there was a little noise in that example. Can it be done without any noise? Her obstreperous gesticulations to her younger brother to be the one chosen to help carry in the groceries ensured that she was chosen. Maybe, although it's amusing regardless just as visual. How "loudly" would she have to be gestering to be obstreperous...? Well, I'm willing to opine that I think it needs some sound, however minimal, so my complaint with the 8 year old was actually with the rusting of her clothes, the intermittent squeak of the springs and the metallic thud of the seat as she engaged in her gyrations, and probably the older sister was humming or something to get the attention of her mother to follow her directions. Once the pair of young German boys were told never to touch my seat and once I put on my headphones to watch every movie on board the 8 hour flight from Frankfurt to LaGuardia, their obstreperous activities of indentifying everying in sight while climbing over each other for the window seat directly behind me waned in my mind. Ah, those were the days...

2 comments:

Jordyne said...

I like "truculent"... nice pairing with obtreperous...

Lauren said...

Hmm, truculent. That's a good word that is worthy of further exploration!