Saturday, March 31, 2007


How could I resist a word which means "conduct or language which tends to incite resistance or rebellion against lawful authority"! Sedition comes from the Latin "se" for "apart" and the past participle of "ire" for "to go", giving a meaning of "to go against". But unfortunately, like obstreperous, the etymology started with resistance without characterization of the passivity or activity of the resistance, and devolved into rebellion, which is often tied with resistance but which has an inherent quality of activity. A passive rebellion is practically an oxymoron, although perhaps in another post, I'll discuss the extremes of the use of that word. Is it sedition to lobby Congress to change legislation? Perhaps by a technical usage of the word, although to use it in this context would merely be high sarcasm. Just like describing the democratic election process, or even the news, particularly during this time and with an incumbent politician, as sedition, although I might agree to the literal meaning here more. And one has to wonder if a failed defense to a criminal charge is ex post facto sedition. But mostly it gets used with activities in deliberate defiance of a government, possibly since a government is the most likely candidate for "lawful" activity which would need to be overthrown. Just before the coup, all literature against the monarchy was banned for its sedition. That's correct, but substitute modern figures and it gets stretched perhaps too far afield. Just before the board vote, all emails against the CEO were suppressed for their sedition. It's funny, because of the inference that the CEO was perhaps a king or a dictator, largely due to the requirement of the action being against lawful activity. The rebel leader was well-known for his sedition. The student group engaged in mild sedition against the principal's new "open locker" policy by littering the halls with their possessions or putting their possessions into locked boxes within their lockers. Possibly, although anarchy or revolt or just protest would probably work better. Still, this at least shows that the word works with people, activities of people, and obviously, ideas.

So, in the end, nothing special in this word, but it is still fun to use.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Denizen v. Citizen

I am severely behind, having been in Boston for 9 days for a concert only to return to Rockville in time for the dress rehearsals for another concert. Plus, the current DD wotd offerings have been less than inspiring (so far). So, from my archives, I offer:

Denizen v. Citizen (DD definition link)

The denizens of DD need to come up with some better words. Actually, this is a mildly better word, which I might be more inclined to use. I am a denizen of several restaurants, longingly with a fantastic sushi restaurant in Natick, and now a pretty decent Vietnamese establishment, as well as a denizen of various hotels in Boston near Symphony Hall. So the only difference between "an inhabitant or resident" and "a regular who frequents a place" is that in the first, you are a putative permanent resident, whereas in second you are an overglorified temporary "resident". The physical existence of the place is irrelevant. Denizens of the internet are just as identifiable as denizens of a favorite watering hole. Now, the British definition is just an interesting legal twist on a status somewhere between wanting to be a permanent resident, but having only a temporary status at the time. As I one day might want to be a denizen of South Africa or New Zealand, both of which based their legal system on the British, I may have cause to use this word on myself. In fact, my husband's aunt and uncle may be working towards denizen status now in New Zealand. Which leaves (no pun intended) us with the plant/animal usage. So, I heard about all the quarantine laws in Australia separate from New Zealand as a result of the introduction of some type of squirrel/beaver in the latter for which they had to introduce a predatory bird which then took over, but these would hardly be considered denizens. Just as weeds would never make the grade as denizens of a garden. Of course, this word does make me wonder about its relationship to "citizen" which has quite a bit of a similar spelling. And having checked into the etymologies of these words, they are in fact related, which makes the real difference between these words the evolution from the French language (for citizen) and middle European (for denizen) both to the British legal system. Citizen was the original inhabitant and denizen is the later inhabitant being or in the process of being absorbed into the original population. Ok, I didn't expect that to be such the legal discourse, but then I never do.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Expunge v. Obliterate v. Efface

Today's wotd was expunge, but in the course of my cursory analysis, I got sidetracked by obliterate, which led me to what the real wotd should have been--perplexed. I'm not anywhere near OED, making this distinction more difficult, since in my gut, I think DD is yet again wrong, or at least incomplete and therefore, misleading. So, I'll start with the word that starts to bring this trilogy into focus:

Efface comes from the Latin for "out" "appearance", or to take out of appearance, which then evolved into "to rub out" [no, not to kill]. The physical act of rubbing was important, as if one rubs one's face to change it's appearance (i.e., get rid of sleep, make up) for tangibles (efface the spot from the carpet, efface the bubble on the SAT), but now has the connotation of the effect without the rubbing for intangibles (efface the memory of taking the Bar exam with lots of alcohol) and with intangibles, seems to be limited solely to the idiom of memory, knowledge or history, history being an effect of memory in some sense (efface useless knowledge, efface the culture of China before socialism). But now, it's also more than just rubbing, but the repetitive motion. Sandblasting effaced the gum from the sidewalk. The tides effaced the beach, as well as the sandcastle. Poor control of tourism and their touching of the engravings, effaced the fine details. Acid rain has effaced the carvings from many ancient Greek buildings. So, it's the physical act of rubbing or repetitive touching akin to rubbing tangible things out of existence, and rubbing out memory or memory-like things.

Expunge comes from the Latin for "to prick", as apparently it was used as an indicia that something on a list needed to be omitted. The black mark that we hear may be beside someone's name now means that this person gets left off the list, but according to DD, in current usage, it has some vague meaning of "to erase or strike out". However, in reality, it is only ever used to with removing things from records (whether legal or otherwise), the new list. Expunge his record of the DUI. Expunge her record of misidentification with the high school brawl. Expunge the minutes of the discussion about corporate expansion. Not expunge antiquated technology from the office. Nor expunge creativity from education.

And finally, obliterate, from the Latin for "to write over letters" or alternatively, "to forget". Of course, it is only used with tangible and intangible categories (no matter how much we want to, we don't obliterate our mothers-in-law or obliterate witnesses; we try to diminish influence and kill, irrespectively), and obliterate can be accomplished in a single or less than repetitive blow. The bomb obliterated all trace of the church. The Taliban's mission was to obliterate other religious symbols. The problem with obliterate, unlike efface and expunge, is that obliterate intends to remove all reference, knowledge, or existence of the thing, leaving nothing behind to remind, but if one is really effective at such obliteration, there would be no proof that the thing existed to prove that it had been obliterated. You could imagine the philosophical tautology of trying to explain that you had obliterated something but not being able to say what you had obliterated because to do so would be to bring it back into existence. Efface doesn't have that problem since it is a physical thing which still may be in memory (I remember where the lines on Washington's face on the quarter were before they were effaced by years of use) or not in memory but still in physical record (despite my attempts to efface my memory of studying for the bar, I still retain my bar notes as a good reference). And expunge is similar to effacing the physical form since there may still be memory of the alleged offense, charge or claim.

Ed. note. I still would probably never use efface, I already use expunge, in it appropriate legal context, and I prefer obliterate because it is so much more evocative.

Friday, March 23, 2007


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"!


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...


Animadversion (DD definition link)

You have got to be kidding me! This is DD's wotd? It looks like a word which would describe either people who hate animals or Japanese cartoons. It just begs to be a malapropism. And how "mind turning toward" becomes an "unfavorable or censurious comment", I don't even care. What's wrong with just censure or criticism or rebuke or condemnation, or any of the other hate "synonyms" in another form? (Loathe, despise, abhor, etc.) It begs to be used: When the little girl said, "vanilla stinks," I pithily replied, "Such animadversion from one so young!" Of course, neither the little girl, nor her mother, nor the counter attendant, nor any of the other patrons in the ice cream parlor would have understood what I said, and the witty retort would have been lost to the ether. Better to have asked her "why do you think vanilla stinks" and then argue on the merits rather than on some meta-level about her voicing her opinion. I can't even fathom using this word, except as utter sarcasm. The journalist's animadversion to the recent opera workshop performance was summed up in the statement, "the people who left at intermission had the right idea". My animadversion to DD's insipid wotd's that are utterly unusable even in pretentious conversation cannot be expressed sanely in this forum. I'll work on it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Putative v. Alleged v. Ostensible

Today's "wotd" offering from DD is "perforce," but I find this word stupid (from the French "par force" meaning, literally, by force, it goes nowhere), so I will ignore it. Instead, since I'm in a coy legal mood (I've been answering Plaintiff's counsel's idiotic discovery requests for the last two days), I've got my own word comparison that I've been meaning to do.

Putative v. Alleged v. Ostensible

Putative comes from the Latin, through the French (of course), putare for, of all things, "to prune, think" or "to clean, prune". Well, I get the "think" part, but "to prune"??? Surely, they don't mean the gardening technique, but rather the whittling away of a discussion or idea to its core in line with cleaning up an argument so it makes sense, but that doesn't really relate to a definition, which is "commonly regarded as such". In fact, it is possibly just the opposite. Something which may be commonly regarded as a person or thing may not be in fact the true person or thing, and therefore, would need to be cleaned up as to an understanding of the true person or thing. His putative title as heir to the presidency of the corporation upon his father's death, while it could be true at some point in the future when a specific announcement is made, such a title has not be officially conferred and therefore, is only speculative.

Now, alleged comes from Latin allegare for "to adduce in support of a plea", like that's going to make this word any easier to understand among the lay folk. Basically, it means to reason or argue a fact which is not readily apparent in your case. In law, we talk about "alleged" facts, those being the ones which have not been proven, admitted, or agreed upon as true. Plaintiffs raise innumerable "alleged" acts of negligence on the part of the Defendant in order to maintain their suit. Her alleged failure to maintain control of her vehicle caused her to hit the Plaintiff's dog. The company's alleged lack of supervision over the supervision of employees enabled the workers to leave the hole uncovered which the Plaintiff then fell into. The alleged unnatural accumulation of snow and ice on the public sidewalk caused the Plaintiff to slip and fall, breaking her leg. All of these "alleged" facts must be proven in order for the Plaintiff to prevail on the claim, and these facts must all be alleged in the Complaint in order for the Complaint to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. So, what we have is a very legal word, which may be used in non-legal contexts to up the ante. In making his appeal for his mother's leniency, the boy argued that it was the alleged taunts of his older sister which made him hit her. Of course, no one would really talk like this outside a law office, would they? Notwithstanding...

And finally, ostensible. Well, first there is the odd etymology, which always makes things interesting. From the Latin a hybrid of "ob" "tendere" meaning "reverse or inverse" "stretch" perhaps poetically meaning not stretched, as in the truth or reality, we then get the past participle of "ostendere" (where we lost the "b") meaning just "to show". But the definitions still have an element of only fiction with "outwardly appearing" or "represented or appearing as such", and not actually being the thing represented or appearing.

So, what is the difference? In the examples, ostensible is used with intangibles (ostensible cheerfulness, ostensible truth). Ostensible mob boss? No. Although the ostensible "aunt", she was not invited to the wedding. No, but funny nontheless. Her ostensible dog walking business was merely an excuse to get out of the house? Probably not. Her ostensible knowledge of physics. Also probably not, although it does tend to diminish the knowledge to practically an intangible in a humorous sort of way. His business plan was really an ostensible recipe for disaster. Yes. I agree. I think ostensible really should only be used with intangibles. Compare, putative's single example as used with a person (putative mob boss). Although the putative "aunt", she was not invited to the wedding. Yes. Her putative dog walking business was merely an excuse to get out of the house. Probably. His business plan was really a putative recipe for disaster. No. His putative cheerfulness did not fool anyone of his underlying misery. No. The putative truth was easily contradicted in cross-examination. No, and for the converse, putative does not tend to raise an intangible to a level of anthropomorphism. So, putative should only be used with people, and perhaps with the activities of people. Her putative daydreaming about her upcoming vacation. Eh. If we must. His putative computer skills. Better. Largely because the activity is becoming more focused. Her ostensible happiness was merely a pretext for a putative plan to be released from the mental institution. Alleged is just the odd word out this time because while putative and ostensible don't really exist in truth at the time of the statement and have no motivation to be proven or disproven, alleged may be already be true and has the inference of needing to be shown as true. All alleged definitions of words in this discussion are based on my putative knowledge and ostensible intuition.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Atone v. Expiate

I should have posted this with the trilogy from earlier today, but quite frankly, I was too tired to hunt this old post down and add it then. So here it is now...

Atone v. Expiate

I think the Catholic church may have a monopoly on all words relatingto guilt and clearing of guilt, but that leads me to the obvious comparison of atone v. expiate. We always hear the phrase "atone for one's sins", not "expiate for sins" (despite the references listed--I think they're wrong. These words must have a unique meaning, and therefore, cannot be used interchangeably.). So atone has the religious overtone from the theological Latin meaning of being "at one", which should leave expiate to cover all non-religious usages. Therefore, to expiate for a wrong is making restitution to the wronged individual (a compunction which leads to expiation) and which coincides nicely with the Latin origins about to make good. A prison sentence can hardly be considered expiation since expiate also requires that it be done voluntarily, otherwise, it's not really making good, since otherwise it doesn't change the intent or perception of the individual who did the wrong. Atone would be to seek forgiveness by an act or deed from a third-party that may or may not be the wronged individual, assuming the wrongful act was against a religious organization. But that still leaves us with the quandary: why use expiate when atone has so much more meaning, and used in a non-religious connotation gives greater emphasis (remember, these are not malapropisms!)? I think I would choose to swap them just to make the point: to expiate a sin diminishes the act being amended (while contraception may be a sin, more individuals tithe to expiate their guilt than actually change their habits) and to atone for a wrong elevates it to a sarcastic proportion (woe unto those who do not atone for the wrongs of failing to watch what they eat!), but the best of all would be the extreme context: to expiate for a wrong in a religious context (for swearing in church, he had to rake all the leaves on the grounds to expiate his sin), while atoning for a sin in a non-religious context (breaking her mother's favorite vase, she was grounded for a week to atone for her crime/sin). And since I'm not Catholic, I'll just stick with atoning. I'll deal with my sins later...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Exculpatory v. Excusatory v. Expiatory; Accusatory v. Admonitory

This is a lengthy comparison which came recently by request. Some of these words tickle my legal fancy; others just seem interesting for whatever subtle distinction they may yield. Here goes...

Exculpatory v. Excusatory v. Expiatory

Exculpatory is an obvious legal word ("exculpatory evidence" in litigation or "exculpatory clause" in contracts being among my favorite phrases), and means "tending to clear from charges or guilt", directly from the Latin ex-culpare (out of blame). Excusatory just means serving as an excuse, which is unhelpful, but "excuse" means to release from duty, guilt, obligation, etc., from the Latin excusare for "to put outside" or "release" as from such duty, guilt, obligation, etc. So there is already a distinction in the person and the act in that a third-party will excuse a wrong, while a neutral thing (a document or testimony of a person) may exculpate an individual. Finally, expiatory means to "atone, make amends or reparation", deriving directly from expiare ("to make good"), which vests with the wrongdoer and implies greater action by the wrongdoer than merely asking for forgiveness. There is an putative reference to a moral sin by the definition of "atone", but this is incorrect. Expiate and atone are not synonyms, and cannot ascribe meaning interchangeably. So while there may be an overlap in these words generally, the person or thing doing the releasing and extent to which action is required to release, i.e., implicity (by the evidence), by word or act of acknowledgment (by forgiveness or by restitution), are the critical difference. The defendant's excusatory statement that he 'wasn't there" at the time of the crime was not credible until the exculpatory evidence of the missing security video tape proved his whereabouts, and provided a sufficient alibi, but neither the statement nor the video tape were expiatory for the defendant's conduct during the trial when he beat up his counsel, breaking her arm. Except for exculpatory, I think I prefer excusatory and expiatory as verbs (which I'll get to presently). The evidence of his brother's habit for "borrowing" his gun while he was sleeping tended to exculpate him from being responsible for the "accidental" shooting of the neighbor's dog. I suppose the only fun you could have with this is to use it outside the criminal context for which it is intended. Such as, if there is a particularly damning tort issue. Bringing his wife breakfast in bed, taking out the trash, and doing all the laundry, exculpated him for forgetting her birthday.

Accusatory v. Admonitory

This pair was lumped in with the prior trio, but on first blush, these are distinct since these words create the blame which is being released with the above words. Accusatory derives from accuse which means "to call to account" (and shares a common origin with excuse from "cause" meaning "reason, sake, or case"). Admonitory is a warning of current or past wrongdoing, from the Latin monitorius for "reminding or warning". The prefix "ad" has a directional inference, but could just mean "near" in this instance. Which makes admonitory less damning than accusatory, but again, both are better as verbs. My admonitory glances to make the children stop squirming go largely unnoticed, and my accusatory huffs of disgust are equally ignored by their parents. This doesn't really work too well. I admonish small children to stop squirming during movies, but I accuse their parents of failure to control their children. Much better! Plaintiff's counsel received admonitory advice from the judge to "move it along" with the witness and an accusatory glare from Defense counsel for wasting time. Again, it's correct, but it doesn't really convey the full meaning. The judge admonished Plaintiff's counsel for wasting time with this witness, and Defense counsel chimed in with a withering eye-roll accusation.

I think the only thing to be gain from using any of these words as adjectives is the emphasis for using what are otherwise known and used words in this unusual form. So, to expand an adage, choose and use your words carefully!


Empyrean (DD definition link)

Ordinarily, I'd be intrigued by any Greek etymology, but empyrean's origins for "of or from fire" devolving into "from the highest heaven" is due to a mistaken association with "imperial" and then an attempt to reassociate the word with "fire," in a pseudo-ex-post-facto definition. Yes, the heavens/sky were the realm of Zeus, the ruler of the Greek gods, but Zeus didn't control the sun (that was Apollo Helios), and the heavens weren't the highest realm of the Greek gods (that was the quintessence). There is some latent association that the heavens contained the "fire" element, but so did Hephaestus' forge, under Mt. Aetna, and we could just as easily be using empyrean to describe in the earth or hell then... So, we are left with an original meaning and usage which got bastardized along the way, and then wrongly reconciled with some lay understanding of ancient Greek culture. Anyone's use of this word is hardly empyrean? No. Planes fly in the empyrean realm? That just sounds pretentious and unnatural. We all aspire to reach empyrean heights in our lives? Again, too pretentious. Plaintiff's counsel had empyrean goals about winning his case despite the lack of credibility of his client? That's the ticket. If the word sounds too silly for ordinary, even among the erudite, usage, then its usage must be accompanied by sarcasm.

Adage v. Bromide

Adage v. Bromide

I suppose this isn't as complicated as I originally thought. Adage is an old saying which has taken on common usage by virtue of the amount of its usage, where a bromide is a dull or boring saying which is just common, inherently to the saying and not the usage. Adage comes from the Latin for "I say" (go figure), and bromide has a rather circuitous route from the element, bromine, which was apparently used as a sedative, who would make such dull/boring sayings. That's it. So, personally, I think bromide is itself a dull word, plus it would always sound like its elemental origins. "Just wait until you have children" is such an overused bromide. Certainly, there has to be a better parental retort than that??? "Look both ways before you cross the street" was never really a bromide, but more good advice and better still, a defense against liability. The warning "don't touch" is a pointless bromide for the stupid? I'll just stick with adage. I will note, however, that saying "old adage" is redundant, since adages are already inherently old. That said... "You are what you eat" and "think before you speak" are familiar adages, while "Plaintiffs lie" and "think before you litigate" should be.

Monday, March 19, 2007


I don't know that this word inspires me any more than any of the other insipid words from DD. Specious' Latin origins mean "to look at" (from "specere"), but that evolved to "appearance". So there is a definite shift from the act of the viewer to the condition of the one being viewed, which is both a perspective and a part of speech shift. I can overlook the latter, but the idea that the etymology was basically to gawk, and then it became how credible was the thing being viewed, seems specious all by itself. And then to further complicate matters, specious takes on a secondary usage meaning of "deceptively pleasing or fair", which actually is more in line with its etymology, than it current popular meaning. As usual, it would seem that the popular usage derived from an older, and therefore, secondary or less popular now, the latter of which is ironically, more accurate. From deceptively pleasing, we get just deceptive. I will note, however, that all usage examples provided only relate to abstractions, and not to the animate or inanimate. So, a specious visage belied of cosmetic surgery would not be appropriate, although it might be funny and perhaps even hyper-accurate. Nor would a designer's specious decorating style or DD's specious word choices for wotd. It most frequently gets used as the phrase "specious argument", and I will admit that I have used this phrase on more than one occasion in oral argument to describe Plaintiff's counsel's reasoning. I'll discuss later the distinction between specious and disingenuous, which is another word I frequently use to describe Plaintiff's counsel's reasoning. For now, though, I'll just stick with his specious experience as a seasoned trial advocate, was debunked at trial by her sustained objection for lack of foundation to a his admission of a business record.


I'm behind. Events have conspired against my keeping up with wotd. It is always the case. But I do what I can when I can. Anyway...

Limpid. This is a dull word only because its Latin origins means "clear" (or "clear water"), and this word has retained that sole meaning to the current usage. The partial definition of "calm" directly relates to clear in that troubled waters are opaque as to what is beneath the surface, but calm waters are clear to the bottom. Similarly, the idea of "transmitting light" appears to derive from the idea that water refracts light, and clear water refracts better (and at all) than riled water. So... Her limpid green eyes shone through her tears. The limpid pool of water revealed the sunken treasure. And the limpid sentences demonstrated "clear" word usage. There. Works for animate as well as the inanimate and abstract. The only fun here is an oblique reference to a nymph (Latin lympha from Greek nymph) as an alleged water deity, but being versed in Greek mythology, we know that "nymphs" are merely the overarching names of long-lived nature spirits, but the water deities are actually naiads, neriads, oceanids, etc. depending on type of water (fresh, sea, littoral, riparian). The Latin improperly associated the whole genre with just water deities, ignoring the land spirits (dryads, hamadryads, etc.), and therefore, losing all the distinctions and inherent meaning. There was no subtlety when they absorbed conquered cultured. Ah, well. Je le souviens.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Taciturn v. Reticent

Taciturn v. Reticent

I actually love both of these words, although I probably favor reticent in my daily speech. Well, it's time I learned the difference. They both derive from Latin "tacit" for silent. The "re" prefix, meaning again, gives the inference that "reticent" means to be silent over and over again, thus, becoming a regular response, although not necessarily a constant condition. One could be reticent in the face of an argument or an IRS audit, but otherwise, conversational with friends and at work. Taciturn has no such prefix (or suffix) to give it additional meaning, thereby implying that the individual is already silent--the constant condition which was lacking from reticent. Her taciturn nature did not lend itself to litigation, but rather to being a legal librarian? Reticent has as one of its definitions "reluctant", as I note here, but not unwilling, while taciturn is described as "habitually". This lends further credibility to the idea that reticent is perhaps an event specific silence, while taciturn is a general silence. I am hardly taciturn since I enjoy singing in public, but I may be reticent when I need to hole up and write a lengthy brief. A taciturn Plaintiff's counsel may be grounds for malpractice, but a reticent attorney who does fails to accept a viable settlement offer before it is withdrawn will likely get brought up on bar charges. I'll try not to be so reticent in the face of uninspiring words that my friends will not think I am taciturn to this discussion forum.


I've been remiss in keeping up with the actual wotd in favor of other words, or even other work (go figure that I can't make entries 24/7). This word didn't inspire me when it came in, and still doesn't really. I was originally going to compare this word with "mull", but mull had a sketchy etymology according to DD from "perhaps...a dialect" of something, and OED was (and still is) too heavy and awkward for me to want to dig it out just to make work. Ponder comes from weighing, originally things and now ideas. Cogitate derives from the same root as agitate, "agere", to drive or set in motion. The prefix "co" more likely means "with intensive force" or "completely" than merely "with" or "together", giving the weight to the thought involved, but it is still odd how "to drive or set in motion" becomes "to think", except as the second definition, "to devise" becomes the idea completely formed and set in motion, and then the process of creating such a well-formed idea became a subsidiary definition about how hard the thought process must be. So, really, we should cogitate a plan for how to deal with poor word usage rather than merely cogitate about the poor word usage. Maybe that's why the thinking process requires a preposition afterward to make the verb work (i.e., about, on), whereas the devising process takes the verb without idiom. She cogitated on the judged's biased decision to determine the issues for reconsideration. But she cogitated how she would draft the motion without offending the judge, since she would have to appear before the judge again. Still, I prefer to muse on such lofty issues, and devise my own plans. Words for another day...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Resume v. Résumé

Resume v. Résumé

This one came by request. Normally, I try to say in the same part of speech, but this time, I was intrigued by the identical spelling (notwithstanding the accents) and therefore, what would appear to be the same etymology. So, if DD is to be believed, and perhaps by the time I get done with this post, I’ll have consulted OED, resume comes from the Latin “resumere” for to take back or re-take, (consistent with consume from “consumere”, to take up or take completely), where “emere” means “to take or buy”. So, resume has a direct etymological link to its origins of to take up an activity or place or condition where one left off as without interruption. She resumed her use of her sobriquet of “Mitzi,” rather than Madeline, in her older years in order to attempt to recapture her youth. He resumed his tenancy after the constructive eviction from the roof leak abated. She resumed writing her opposition to the Plaintiff’s counsel’s insipid motion after the telephone call from the Court. But résumé is odd. DD states that it is the past participle of the French résumer, and gives it a recursive etymology to “resume” which now allegedly means “to sum up”, but nothing in the definition or etymology of "resume" indicates any summing. So, yes, I’m off to OED now. OED gives the same etymology and general usage, except buried in meaning 5b., it says "resume" means to recapitulate or summarize facts (with usages c. 1675-1875), where meaning 5a. was to repeat a sentence or word in an admittedly rare usage (c. 1535-1825). How does 50 years in the 1800s make one word rare, but another not, is a rant for another day. But, finally! Something having to do with “summing”. So, it appears that for some unknown reason around 1600 there was a split in the word usage with an offshoot which, while its origins have faded into antiquity, the final derivative remains in common usage. At the moment, unfortunately, your guess is as good as mine. I’ll have to consult my French dictionary, I think, if I want to get any further on the why, but that’s not convenient now. Stay tuned…

Descry v. Espy v. Decry

Descry v. Espy v. Decry

Finally! Something interesting, and, I hope as I start this post, not too difficult to come to a conclusion.

Descry comes from Old French (descrier, to proclaim) for the call that comes with the discovery of the enemy, the game or land, whereas espy comes from German through French (espier, to watch) for watching for the enemy, the game or land. Therefore, the watch would espy the pirates and descry their location. Descry has lost the cry, and espy has lost the idea of watching, and now both seem to just mean seeing the tangible thing, but I would argue that the inherent etymology still remains in the usage. Now, by definition, espy has the distance and glimpse element of where the person is watching, and descry has the careful scrutiny and the inherent joy (read: call) of the discovery. So, one would espy the postman for the Bar results, but descry the exculpatory evidence which was buried in the boxes of document production. After all, why would you keep a good document to yourself? Occasionally, guests espy my cat, although I warn them not to descry her location to keep from terrorizing her. These words work well as pairs.

Now, decry comes from the same Old French, but in the ~400 years since descry came into being (c. 1250, descry v. c. 1610, decry), the true inferences of proclaiming, as well as the French root "crier", to cry out in protest, now seem to have taken new hold, along with the absence of the "s". So, decry meant to speak disparagingly of or condemn in public, thus making the thing decried worthless, and then was used to disparage as faulty or worthless, while descry probably was used to protest first the enemy, and got associated with a more general opponent or "enemy" (the fox, the lion), then just things that required an important call (the land before the ship), and then just meant to cry out upon seeing something important, and finally, just seeing the important thing. So, I decry poor word usage and particularly whenever I descry it in text. Probably not. I decry some Plaintiff's counsels as obstructionist to a smooth legal process and settlement, but these individuals are hard to descry until you are already in the midst of the case. Better. Writing a letter to the BBB allows disgruntled consumers to decry the "businesses" with which they have dealt, so others do not have to descry their unethical business practices independently. The former word, ok, but the latter word is dodgy with what may be construed as an intangible. Anyway, I think you get the point. As for the "s", I can't explain where it went, nor do I think I want to.

Monday, March 12, 2007


This is a more amusing entry from my archives to relieve the trepidation...

Concatenation (DD definition link)

Ok, I originally thought this word was pretty blah, and only useful in a very limited context dealing with actual links (a series of "if, then" commands in programming is quintessential concatenation, even to the point that "cat" is the command "to concatenate" the links). But as I started exploring the flexibility of this word, I immediately thought of dominos (a concatenation of dominos), but realized that was the wrong direction. Dominos, like Rube Goldberg puzzles, are pushed. The previous item drops/falls and propels the next item. A concatenation requires pulling, as in actual chain--that the second item can't go until the first one goes. So, that obviously led me to traffic (a concatenation of cars in stop and go traffic on the Beltway, or a concatenation of cars waiting for the red light, or the pace car at Nascar leading a concatenation of cars). Really works in traffic. And I suppose a concatenation of lemmings for the weak-willed metaphors.


Trepidation (DD definition link)

Well, from "agitated, restless, disturbed" we get "state of dread or alarm, nervous agitation, apprehension, fright". It's not an impossible stretch to get from agitated to nervous agitation, but certainly there are other conditions which cause agitation other than being nervous. I can easily think of anger, medication, too much noise, sleep deprivation, Plaintiff's counsel.... The idea that one who is restless also doesn't derive solely from nervousness. I am frequently restless when I am bored and have nothing to do, as when I am waiting for time to pass before I can do something, or for something to happen before I can respond. I am hardly nervous or afraid, but I may be agitated (I may also be agitating to others as they watch me pace and twitter). Disturbed is just to vague to get "nervous" from any more than any other modifier. I regularly describe some movies as "disturbed", not "disturbing" because I believe the movie is so inherently off kilter that it is the cause of its own problem, and not that it just might have that effect on viewers (see Leaving Las Vegas, Hostel, Trainspotting). These movies are hardly nervous, nor do they induce nervousness, and aside from the horror entry, the others don't induce dread, alarm, apprehension or fright, as much as disgust or depression. So, how do we get the nervous fear aspect from mere hype? Because, DD's etymology is incorrect! OED gives the Latin for "tredipus" as scared or alarmed and "trepidare" as to hurry, bustle, be agitated or alarmed. So that gets us the fright, restless and state of alarm elements, but not entirely the apprehension, nervous or dread since the latter are anticipatory of the states of being in fear and/or don't relate to mere "hustle and bustle". It is not unreasonable to tack on the preceding emotional states, but as we know in the law, you can be battered without being assaulted (just remember that the next time you think about drawing on someone while she is asleep). So certainly, you can be put in a state of fear without being nervous about being afraid. Someone jumps out in front of you with a gun, regardless of whether it was a dark alley or a dark and stormy night. Why does the definition of trepidation include the anticipatory states? Because, DD's definitions are incorrect! OED defines the relevant entry solely as "tremulous agitation; confused hurry or alarm; confusion; flurry; perturbation". Most these are similar to the DD definition: agitation, alarm, flurry (= restlessness). Except now we have element of shaking and confusion, which ironically, are effects of being scared. He scared her with the gun and then she shook with fear, unable to think straight for several seconds. Not everyone has to be that scared that they shake and are confused after being scared. Fight or flight allows for other responses. But trepidation does have an archaic usage for trembling, which may derive from either the extreme response to fear or from the perception of the bustling and agitation. More importantly, however, the OED definition brings into focus that the use of the word, although still not the etymology, is on the movement, not the emotional state which may have caused the movement. So, it appears that trepidation refers not just to the state of fear, but also restless energy. Funny, though how despite the convoluted definitions, the usage of the word probably remains the most accurate.

Either way, I'll take a strict and narrow usage of trepidation for only in the state of fear, alarm or agitation, and stay away from the preceding or antecedent states, and try to remember that it really should describe movement. Her trepidation about going to rehearsals unprepared and being singled out for an inadvertent solo motivated her to practice 3 hours that day. That works for the limited definition from DD and our understanding of common usage, but doesn't work with the OED definition, relative to the motion meaning. His trepidation immediately abated when he arrived too early for the hearing. Yeah, maybe, but even thought it may have meant the bustle and flurry elements, it still reads like fear. In her trepidation at what the police wanted, she could barely open the door. Still just fear.

Ed. note: DD normally gives reasonable etymologies, and certainly for average understanding and usage of words, its definitions are fine. But that's not what this forum is about. I don't want to just think I know what a word means and how to use it. I want to know why that knowledge is correct, and I have to follow my instincts when the analysis just isn't making any kind of sense. Thank you for your patience.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Nonplus (DD definition link)

There is a definite need for a word which means that "no more" can be said or done for whatever reason, however, this isn't that word. By the time the word got out of it's flat etymological roots, it took on a meaning of being too bewildered, confounded, or perhaps, just plain stupid, to say or do anything more. But I would never be nonplussed at oral argument. I would just be done. There wouldn't be anything more to be said not because I suddenly took leave of my senses, but because I would have said all that I needed to say. Perhaps after my three day, double whammy bar exam extravaganza, I was nonplussed, in the sense that I couldn't function properly, I was so effete, [Ed. note: I still don't think this word works for anything other than the debased meanings now.] but I'd still probably chose to describe that time with more obviously demonstrable words, like that I was a zombie. Plaintiff's counsel because so nonplussed with Defense counsel's cross-examination that he could not object? When I'm done cleaning the kitchen, am I nonplussed in my task? The problem with this word is that it sounds like it should mean that the person didn't care, and therefore didn't speak or act, as opposed to having nothing more to say or do. Honestly, this word is useless, and on that note, I am nonplussed why anyone would really use this word.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sanguine v. Incarnadine

Effete left me a little bored today, so I went into my bank of other words that I've wanted to explore.

Sanguine v. Incarnadine

I probably should have saved these words for Valentine's Day, Christmas, some election, or another "red" day, but I was intrigued. They both mean blood red, but sanguine derives from "sanguis" (blood), while incarnadine derives from "carne" (meat, flesh). Thus, incarnadine or being made of flesh, can be both blood red and the fleshy pink color, making it very hard for interior designers to know what color is intended, while sanguine only ever means blood red, or cheerfully optimistic (as from an abundance of the blood humor from Medieval medicine and also gives us "bloodthirsty" Plaintiff's counsels). Whether sanguine is a sanguine color remains to be seen. Bulls don't seem to think so, but the Chinese do. And incarnadine as a color depends on how rare you like your steak. I'll take mine medium, which may already be a color in my basement, but I would hardly describe my skin color as incarnadine more than pale or anemic.


Effete (DD definition link)

I think my confusion about this word stems from the fact that I only knew it's latter meanings and not the earlier ones. I understand the etymology of being exhausted from giving birth to just a descriptor for being that exhausted, but through some misfortune, the word morally gets added before it, and suddenly we have depraved. So, what happened c. 1790 that the word "morally" got involved? Was it a commentary on the type of person who was so exhausted? After three days of taking the NY and MA bar exams, I was so effete, I couldn't think straight, much less stand. Yes, it happened, but no, I don't want to be described as effete. Sounds odd being used out of the decadent/effeminate context we all know so well. Many actresses playing effete women have never experienced childbirth to know how to act it properly. If you didn't know what the word really meant, this context could just as easily lend itself to the immoral usage, although I meant it in the first definition. Maybe that does go to show that the difference between being tired and being immoral is not that far apart. After all, sloth is a sin. Her effete study habits didn't last her through the overnight cramming session? Still can't tell which usage is being intended (decadent or worn out). Maybe the word has a deliberate double-entendre now. The effete assignment was tantamount to banging ones head against the wall for its frustrating uselessness. No. The effete song was played on the radio every hour on the hour until listenership diminished as a result. Probably not. Plus, invidious would be better here. I think since effete derives from childbirth, it should only be applied to acts of humans, and possibly elevated animals, but not the inanimate or abstract if you ever want to get at the original definition. The problem there is that every time effete is used outside the human context, it grows in the usage of the latter definitions (decadent, effeminate). Known by his students as an effete lecturer, he quickly put everyone to sleep. Maybe this gets across the idea of tired more, but I still wouldn't want to say it for fear of slander. And these "tired" usages still don't make the distinction that effete is a past participle--tired, worn out, not tiring or wearing out. The condition is already past hope at the time you use effete. The effete athlete was unable to be revived from dehydration after the triathalon. After 60 years of smoking, she took her last effete breath. Ok, I think we all get the point. Unless effete is used specifically to relate to childbirth, and that really great feeling right after 6-12 lbs is finally released, we will only use effete in the slanderous, degrading meanings. Effete is certainly an effete word.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Littoral v. Riparian

Littoral v. Riparian

This is another one from my archive. These are not even remotely synonyms, but are related pairs, and really must be discussed together.

Littoral is a PRIME example of a word that only has one usage and, in fact, is mainly a legal word. In first year property class we learned about riparian and littoral rights (both relating to water), but the first relates to moving water (rivers and streams; Riparian rivers) while the second relates to standing water (lakes and ponds; Littoral lakes). DD doesn't quite make that distinction when defining it, but all the example usages do. So correctly, one would never talk about a farm's littoral irrigation, but rather we can talk about the fact that after my recent sun burn while gardening, I won't be engaging in any littoral sun worshipping activities for the next month.

The definition of riparian is much better than the one given for littoral, which was a little vague on its specificity, and which prompted my legal analysis/discussion. Not that DD has redeemed itself by a slightly better definition which is actually accurate, because it hasn't. This is still a specialized legal word, and would rarely, if ever, be used in a non-legal context, even among erudite speakers. Using this word just makes every lawyer in the room perk up to make sure (a) that it's being used correctly and (b) that you aren't engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. So, enjoy and be careful!


Coterminous (DD definition link)

Interesting how a word whose origins derive from "boundary", a spatial relation, ends up with a usage of "duration", a temporal relation. Did the time/space continuum get warped for this word? Or does it have to do with velocity? a speed in a particular direction from which we can derive how long something takes by how far the thing got? In both cases, it would need to be a physical thing with the intent that it will end, as opposed to an abstraction. Despite the horizon and great cinematography, boundaries don't go on forever. Massachusetts is a coterminous state to Connecticut. That's too easy. Moreover, why not just say abutting or adjacent? They don't have to share the entire same border. Coterminous cubicles. That has some cute alliteration. Coterminous rip cords are precisely measured? Although technically they would have the same length and run out at the same time, it just sounds silly. The state and district courts share coterminous jurisdiction over certain tort claims. Although possibly accurately stated, it still not accurate. The phrase is only, ever, concurrent jurisdiction. Possibly because, as I discussed above, coterminous requires an ending and jurisdiction is an indefinite. Hmm. Something to consider later (coterminous v. concurrent). Their coterminous exams allowed them to meet promptly for lunch? It's harder to apply with the "duration" aspect. Their coterminous work schedules made organizing child care difficult? Again, concurrent works better, or even contemporaneous. So, in short, this appears to be a quirk of a word with no real common good usage. There are so many other words that are more nuanced to describe relatively the same thing. What is to be gained by using coterminous except the implicit idea of the finite ending which is knowable. Oh, well, I'll keep working on other near synonyms for coterminous, in the meantime.


I'm still a little behind on my wotd entries, although this forum was never intended to try to hit each wotd entry; just the ones that motivate me. Malapropism is not a word I like to use because I will try to respect people's "use" of words out of context as emphasis or humor value for what they are trying to communicate. As you may have noticed from my previous posts, I like to try to stretch the applicable use, but I would not consider some of my broadened uses to be malapropisms as much as evocative language. But that's the difference in the definition of malapropism between "intentional" and "unintentional". I go on record now that all my alleged misuages are "intentional" and therefore, do not meet the definition of malapropism. Just wait until DD gives me "satire" or "sarcasm". I also abhor words that are based on proper nouns, although this one has a latent Latin construction for "bad word use," more so than the "words" coined from Gulliver's Travels...

Her emphasis of accusing the TSA of fondling her during their pat searches was mistaken as a malapropism by the supervisor.


Collegial (DD definition link)

I've been a little distracted lately for uninteresting words, but a conversation with some friends this evening made this word a little more inspiring, at least for usage. But first, a quick discussions about etymology. Ultimately, this word derives from "law", which, of course, intrigues me! Lawyers are hardly ever collegial. There's all that adversarial process, and competition for billable hours and getting plum projects, etc. So, the idea really is about simply working together, whether it be happily or otherwise. And the issue about "choosing a deputy" indicates that the co-worker would be subordinate. The connection that these co-workers must be at least tacitly happy is incorrect. There is an inherent power struggle and simply that these individuals must exist in the same association (whether office or clerical, in the religious sense). In practice, the responsibility is never shared equally, and by the etymology, should never be. Perhaps we can only be hopeful that these individuals will simply get along. Which now leaves me with my usage: Is there really a collegial atmosphere between tenured and non-tenured faculty? You pick your definition of collegial...

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


This is a dull word. Unlike sagacious which had the extra “wise” in the definition which wasn’t part of the original etymology, indefatigable means exactly what it’s Latin origins indicate—not tired out or weary. Now, the pronounciation is a little odd, with the stress moved back a syllable, but this forum is not about how we say the words; just how we use them. So, the only fun to be made here is how to abuse the word. Well, clearly, fatigue has to relate to living beings, and by extension, the activities of living beings which, thereby, could suffer from fatigue. So, there is the indefatigable 1950’s housewife, and the indefatigable advocacy of the confessed murderer, and possibly the indefatigable mewing of my cat after I’ve been away for too long. How about an indefatigable cramming session for the bar exam? Well, that may be a lie, but that’s a separate issue. Or the indefatigable computer? Does that work only because of the inference of artificial intelligence? Or indefatigable cold and flu symptoms, not because they don’t make you tired but because they never stop making you feel miserable. That might be a stretch, but it has humor value, which if you actually felt that bad, might lighten the mood. So, while the word’s origins are uninspiring, the word does have its uses. If I weren’t so in-indefatigable lately, I might have cause to start using it more.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Germane v. Relevant

This is another old post, but I've added a bit more for my long-time readers...

Germane v. Relevant (DD definition links)

What is germane to this exercise is that we enjoy using the words, and find interesting ways to integrate them into our normal conversation. That was just too easy, and unfortunately, since I went to law school, my word has always, ever, only, been "relevant". Sorta becomes the red flag that I'm a lawyer (as if practically everyone didn't already know that) and raises the evidentiary issue, just for fun. Plus, the way I say it, it sounds like an objection already. There is no obvious noun form for germane (germanance???), which makes it impossible to use in the same way as just saying "relevance", with that indicting tone. So, although I like germane, its relevance for me is fleeting.

I suppose the real issue for me should be that germane derives from Latin for "of or relating to the same parentage" and relevant comes from Latin for "to relieve, raise up"! Neither of these etymologies have any obvious bearing on the connection of two items or subjects. So how did this words come to have this meaning? Does relevance "raise" a related issue somewhere of some type? While germane quite literally has the germ of the idea which grows directly into something else? Germane also has a latent meaning of being "closely" related to the issue and not any type of relation. Therefore, it appears that germane is more closely connected than mere relevance, which may be only tangential. But in law, relevant is relevant, regardless of the attenuation. It's still "relevant" for me, and possibly germane for anyone else.

Nascent; latent


I've always liked this word. The idea that something comes into being, now expanded beyond the original etymology of being born, just lends itself to wonderful uses. A nascent plot for revenge or a nascent friendship after moving, being among the abstract usages. A nascent post to this forum or the nascent opposition to a motion for summary judgment after a weekend's legal research, being among the non-abstract usages. Just a great, and wildly underutilized, word.


Now compare nascent with latent. No, I don't profess that these are not even remotely synonyms, but more inverse meanings. Nascent is something known which has just been formed while latent is something that has always been around but was not known (until now). Many of the nascent examples also work quite well with latent, ironically. A latent plot for revenge (probably more likely to succeed), or a latent friendship (for the midnight tryst folk or the cheerleader/geek combo). Works well in the abstract. A latent post to this forum would be a perpetual draft that never gets published, and a latent opposition to a motion for summary judgment would be moot, probably as untimely filed. I'll deal with dormant and quiescent later...

Galumph; Sough


In short, galumph fails the rule since it is no better than onomatopoeia. I don't care that Lewis Carroll coined it, or that it is "probably an alliteration of gallop" or "to gallop triumphantly". The fact that it came from the nonsense poem, Jabberwocky, belies it's true nature, and were I to deign to engage in this "word", I might one day find myself discussing the origins of "doh" or "psst".

But as long as I'm on a rant about DD's posting of utterly useless non-words which are barely more than onomatopoeia, I'll add a brief archival posting about:


Now, unlike other words, which I had never heard of before, but now own, sough has no real usefulness except to describe this particular sound of wind through something (hence the rustling AND sighing requirements). I can hardly say that Moses und Aron would require any voice to sough, although we did chant, sing off pitch, and wail. I almost wish we were required to sough as I think it would have been a lot more sonorous in places. I don't think this works. What a bizarre little word, with a bizarre etymology, and an even more bizarre choice of pronounciations. When did we lose the "w"? and why? and what does "swogan" mean??? DD got a little lax here. If I were to read my DD rantings aloud, would they only sound like so much sough to the uneducated or uninitiated ear? Better (and probably). And if I really wanted to describe the wind, a metaphor works so much better than some obscure word. "The whisper of the breeze through the leaves" creates so much more useful imagery than just sough. And when do you have occasion to want to make both a rustling/sighing sound of wind that you wouldn't describe what you wanted outright? A conductor would never tell the percussion section to make the sound of sough. That would be useless, on so many levels. He'd just say, he wants more rustling and sighing, like the whisper of a breeze through leaves. Perhaps I'm just being supercilious about the word sough.

Conspectus v. Prospectus

Being awake at this odd and borderline profligate hour, I thought, "what better to do now than another word analysis?" So I scrolled through my interminable list of old DD wotds that I haven't yet looked at in the last 5 months and stumbled upon "conspectus". And I thought, what an odd word. Looks like prospectus. Defined like prospectus. Smells like prospectus. What's the difference? Why would we need this word.

Conspectus (DD definition links)

Well, etymologically, both derive from the same Latin root, specere meaning "to look", so the only difference here is the prefix of con (with, together or in association) and pro (normally for or favor, but more likely here, acting in the place of). So, how does this small derivation devolve into a formal summary of a general subject versus a brochure or document describing a specific proposed business venture, including a contract for goods or services and including education? They both are written accumulations of information. The issues appear to be the depth of the subject against the degree of review of the information intended. A conspectus being more general in scope with less specificity, and therefore, not possible to give in depth review of the subject, while a prospectus, being a precursor to a contemplated business venture, should be more detailed to given the prospective investor more/enough information to make an educated decision on the risks of entering into the venture. It still seems odd. The "con" prefix shouldn't diminish the importance of the summary nor the "pro" prefix unduly elevate the summary, yet, these prefixes seem to lead to the conclusion that the "con"spectus should be viewed "with" other information, not alone, but a "pro"spectus would be sufficient "in the place of" any other information which could or should be available prior to entering into a contract. Would a Court view review of a prospectus alone as sufficient due diligence? I hope not! Otherwise, I would hope that the prospectus were not a mere summary as indicated by the definition, but were something more comprehensive, ironically, as stated as the possible first definition for conspectus. So, again, we are left with words which in usage, etymology and just common sense don't appear to work properly to convey the correct unique meanings. Perhaps they have just been used interchangeably improperly for a while that the misplaced contextual meanings have now been added. But I'll posit one last theory before I abandon this conundrum for a better activity at this hour: prospectus was first originated c. 1760, and conspectus c. 1830, making them both relatively new words to English and relating to marked periods in history for socio-economic advancement, therefore, the need for prospectuses and conspectuses evolved, but as technology caught up with the need for specific types of summaries perhaps the definitions have not yet. Thus, while there are myriad and detailed examples of the usage of prospectus, DD has not (and perhaps cannot provide) a single example of conspectus, even from antiquity, or even just under 200 years ago, which makes the actual and continuing use of this word suspect, or at best, antiquated or now at the level of industry jargon. My own cursory Google search showed only a series of journals named "conspectus XXX", which seemed to indicate that it was a compendium of knowledge on a subject (mostly technology, but some business and a fair representation of scientific methodologies). So, for the moment, I'll stick with prospectus, and I'll take all the back up documentation too, thank you!

The email prospectus was too vague for her to feel comfortable with the investment opportunity, although the alleged Nigerian Conspectus indicated that investing in domestic "pyramid schemes" was generally safe.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Archetype v. Apotheosis

Well, besides the misleading surface Latin v. Greek etymologies...

Archetype derives from the Latin THROUGH the Greek for "first" "mold, model, type, blow, or mark of a blow" while apotheosis derives from the Greek for "to deify" or "to change into a god," literally. So, based on the Greek culture, archetype, might be the ultimate example from the quintessence from which the Greek gods emerged or more likely, the perfect mortal example (e.g., Orpheus, Heracles, Hebe, all of whom were later deified), where apotheosis represents that deified mortal example. But remember, the Greek gods were fallible, and therefore, the standard for deification and, therefore, apotheosis does not mean perfection, but just a high Greek ideal, although perfection is the incorrect current connotative meaning. So it is possible that archetypal is a higher and greater standard than apotheosis, depending on the nature of the model, although a mortal who could be deified would be a great mortal hero/heroine. Now, given that archetype has a partial etymology relating to "blow" or "mark of a blow", that implies a forging or chiseling of the model, perhaps from stone or metal, and perhaps related to the stone children of Deucalion and Pyrrha, or the statue of Galatea, or the "children of Ares" in the Jason/Medea tale, all of whom were imperfect to divine eyes and mortal, and in the last example slain immediately. Basically, these words cannot be used interchangeably (again, no true synonyms), and should be noted in the context from which they originated for current usage. Now, from a current usage level, apotheosis should only be used with living entities (e.g., mammals), while archetypal may be more abstract. Cats reached their apotheosis in Egyptian culture, while dogs remain only an archetype of domesticity. Yes. While I.M. Pei's archetype was the free-form sculptures outside the National Gallery, the Louvre Pyramid is hardly the apotheosis. Possibly, at least for abstract humor value. [Ed. note: I first visited Le Louvre long before La Pyramide made you descend to enter the museum. Nothing is ever the same afterward.]

Copious; sedulous; venal

This is another of my private archival emails with only quick usages.


I've always loved this word--copious. It has such studious connotations. In fact, it was my copious note-taking skills that got me a job in law school transcribing my notes for the academically challenged, although I'm sure my sedulous study habits also contributed. Sedulous. It sounds like too many other words that are the antithesis of it: sedicious, salacious, credulous (and it's corollary, incredulous). But when my husband is next searching for a word to describe a woman in science who has been successful, and rather than tagging her as being aggressive, which has such negative overtones when applied to women, I'm going to suggest that she was sedulous. As for venal and as DD notes in the etymology, it sounds too much like venial, which relates the seven venial (invoking temporal punishment) as opposed to mortal (deadly) sins. Not being Catholic or really having any grounding in that lore, I stay away from the obvious confusion, although among erudite lawyers, you can use these words and no one will mistake you. But basically, that's because most lawyers are venal in the first sense of the word--even a plaintiff's attorney knows the price of his billable hour--and still others are venal in the second sense of the word. Plaintiff's attorneys can try to justify their actions, but they are still venal in the face of client's demands [take your pick of definitions... ;-) ].

Mordant; Plebian

This is an old analysis, and before I really got into the etymology analysis, but still useful.


It's amazing the difference an "a" versus an "e" can make, including the fact that this word with the "e" (Mordent) is frequently mispelled as "mordant" which caused me all manner of confusion. Mordent being a type of musical ornamentation with which I am familiar (although it is not my style of singing - baroque) and mordant being a type of wit. And the subtlety of pronounciation could be distracting. Of course, if they were being pronounced correctly, mordent would be done with that French nasal sound that I keep griping about and an accent on the second syllable, but it is so frequently mispronounced with the accent on the first syllable in that horrible American twang that hammers on the "n", obscuring the vowel entirely and making it sound like mordent.

His mordant wit and plebian humor served him well ingratiating himself to his fellow inmates, although his use of those words often got him beat up for being too pretentious. And every time I hear "mordant" (or even "mordent") I still hear a "death" root, not a "biting" root. And plebian reminds me of the whole fraternity system with the indoctrination period as "plebes", not better than slaves to the vested brothers. Again, if I were to use such a term as plebian, I would choose the French over the Latin: declassé, or go with base, which I find is another underutilized word, particularly as it is such a good adjective. Or if you really want to get descriptive, trailer trash (or just trash) has such a nice connotative ring to it.

Sagacious; Profligate v. Prodigal

Sagacious (DD definition link)

This is another not terribly interesting word with a pretty straight etymological line to its usage. From the Latin for "keen, shrewd, or clever", it means "keen, shrewd or clever" still today. That it may also mean "wise" is the only wrinkle, because being clever or shrewd is perhaps more street smarts than book smarts, although since "wise" carries no specific distinction, the "wise" aspect would appear to be an off-shoot of the perception of the keen, shrewd and clever people with whom this word had been associated.

Her sagacious cross-examination skills in the deposition allowed her to trip up the plaintiff into admitting there was no liability to her client. Or his sagacious double talk about the obscured speed limit sign got him out of the ticket.

Profilgate v. Prodigal

A couple of days ago, the word profligate popped up, which usage appeared straightforward on first blush until you delve into the etymology. How did a word with a derivation from the Latin for "to cast down, defeat, overthrow or ruin" or "to strike (down)" or "dash to the ground" end up with a usage about "immorality" or "debauchery"? This has caused me no end of consternation as I have debated the nuances in relation to prodigal, which derives from the Latin for "to drive away, waste". Prodigal is clear: the person recklessly or extravagantly gave away or spent assets (and/or was the person engaged in the activity of giving away or spending such assets). But profligate also has the inherent meaning of wasting, even using "recklessly prodigal" as a definition, although the only possible reference to spending an asset is the recursive definition to prodigal. Therefore, it appears that profligate refers to wasting more than an asset, such as health or sanity or reputation, or wasting an asset in a way that is beyond mere negligence or even recklessness, thus earning the condemnation of society more than being merely a spendthrift, and thus leading to someone to want to strike or cast down the individual for the nature of the behavior. Possibly, a prodigal has an inherent meaning of having atoned for the wasteful conduct, now leading to a reformed life, while a profligate may still be engaging in the wasteful behavior, although I don't think that's the real difference. OED sheds no significant light on the subject, except to make profligate vicious and vile, as well as debauched and immoral. Other dictionaries are less thorough on the etymology to give any specific indication. Most usages of profligate uniformly relate to spending--profligate spending by the military, profligate salaries to CEOs and professional athletes--but these appear to be usages relative to a condemnation that the money being spent is obscene and shouldn't ever be spent, not that it was prodigal, and was perhaps stupidly wasteful. [Ed. note: Just how much cash are we talking about here? Prodigal or really profligate?] The prodigal might not understand that investing in a pyramid scheme was a bad idea that should have involved more due diligence, but the profligate should have known better. Basically, what appears to be coming out now is that profligate earns the condemnation of society, whereas the prodigal may only earn a scolding by the family. So perhaps the effect of profligate affects a larger group of people such as taxpayers or stockholders or ticket buyers. Therefore, by using profligate, the speaker implies that the action is something that society should actively try to stop from happening or continuing to happen, whereas by using prodigal, the speaker only means to chastise the action from a distance. The government's profligate spending on unnecessary "fixes" to computer internet systems shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what the problem is let alone how to really fix it. Ok. It's easy with money because we understand the economic implications. Non-monetary actions are harder. The Plaintiff's counsel's profligate reliance on her client's version of the story was an actionable fraud on the Court. Not quite so sure this rises to the level of "extreme and outrageous" conduct sufficient for profligate. The religious right have dubbed all abortions as profligate. Ok. That works, although perhaps not as eloquently as it could be said otherwise. The justice system has deemed that pedophiles and especially recidivists are among the most profligate criminals. Yes, that works too. To the conventional matchmaker, speed-dating is borderline profligate. Possibly, at least to convey the relative humor value. Well, I think that's enough to get across the point of profligate. Prodigal is so much easier: Spendthrift trusts were established to ensure that prodigal sons and daughter could no longer bring about their own financial demise.

Thank you for your patience... :-)

Saturday, March 3, 2007


Entreat (DD definition link)

Ordinarily, I'd have just given this word a miss as being too easy, but then I took a look at the etymology and it provoked me as to the comparison with "to move". In law, we speak of "moving the Court" to rule in our favor, which one would think is comparable to "entreating the Court", however, entreat derives from the Latin "to draw, pull or drag out", whereas move derives from Latin "to motivate or set in motion" and "to push". Therefore, the manner in which the response is elicited in different. Entreat implies that it will be hard to pull out, like wheedling, and move, that you will simply push someone in the direction. Both may still have inherent difficulties in getting the response since in law, you can have multiple parties "pushing" the judge in different directions, but there is this curious distinction.

Still, I move the Court to rule in my favor, just as I move an audience to response to my performance, but I entreat small children to stop squirming in the movie theatre or Plaintiff's counsel not to file stupid and wasteful motions.

Parlance v. Vernacular

As best as I can deduce from my research, this is the pedantic difference:

Parlance derives from the French "parler", meaning "to speak", whereas vernacular derives from the Latin for "domestic, native", further derived from the Etruscan for "home-born slave, native". Parlance is defined as "a manner of speaking that is natural to native speakers of the language", and vernacular is "the standard native or everyday language of a country or locale". Therefore, parlance is the language of the person, notwithstanding the location of that person, and vernacular is the language of the region notwithstanding the person. Therefore, parlance would be a purer form of the original language, but may be displaced, whereas, vernacular will become bastardized over time due to the influx of new persons to a new area who change the language. This coincides with the etymologies since parlance just means to speak, but vernacular has that element of displaced household slaves who have had to adopt a new language, but may have added a few things from their former home. Parlance has a connotation of something a little more formal. You will hear "in the common parlance" as a way of jokingly reducing the level of "parlance", but never "in the common vernacular", since vernacular is already impliedly less formal. Also, vernacular encompasses swearing, again consistent with the idea of low brow slaves just talking, but never with parlance. They are, unfortunately, listed as cross-referenced synonyms for each other, but this is obviously wrong. So, in casual conversation, you would say, in the parlance of a language you knew as a native speaker no matter where you were, but you would talk about the vernacular of a region even if you haven't lived there that long and even if you don't speak the regional idioms. That leaves my sentence usages as:

French parlance uses the "r" to distinguish native from non-native speakers, and more particularly Parisians from tourists.
The only vernacular of Boston that I picked up was the exceptional use of "wicked".


This discussion forum was inspired by my high school English classes where we were assigned to write three sentences using our weekly vocabulary words.  The theory was that if you could use the word in three sentences, you owned the word and would be able to call upon it for the SATs as well as in daily conversation.  Many years later, I was working at a law firm during the summer, and met a precocious high school sophomore who was in the throes of studying for the SATs.  We implemented a system of three words a day to be used in three sentences, and she would pop into my office randomly, blurt out her sentence and then we would both go back to our work until she had the next usage.

Years later after I was well into my legal career, and she had successfully graduated from Dartmouth, we renewed our "Word of the Day" ("wotd") exercises, although now we only had to use it in one sentence.  From my vantage point, the exercise gradually morphed into something more interesting for me.  In law, we are taught that there are no true synonyms, so it became my duty to explore the subtle differences of usage of words we thought we knew, based in part on the wotd offerings and some more erudite conversations with my friend.

As you'll learn in the coming postings, I'm an insurance defense litigator with a penchant for statutory analysis and a professional musician.  I use as my daily source, often referred to as "Doctor Dictionary" or "DD" since that's who the emails indicate is the sender.  Occasionally, I take outside submissions of comparison words. The only rule I have is that all words must be English. All phrases, hyphenations, slang, and foreign words will be ignored.

I hope you will find this discussion as intriguing, insightful, and, at times, inane as I do. And now on to the word comparison which gave me the title for this forum:
Parlance v. Vernacular.


April 12, 2016 Update

Hello all,

I am alive and well, and nearly ready to resume this blog after a long hiatus.  I will attribute this in large part to OED not being available free online, and therefore, the nuisance of having to get out the really heavy books and use the magnifying glass just got to me, and from there it was a slippery slope what with moving and the job and moving again and the job again.

In the intervening 7.5 years, a lot has changed.  I practice as a freelance legal ghost writer (civil motion and appellate practice, commercial lease drafting) and I provide litigation support as necessary attendant to the motion and appellate practice (oral argument, discovery).  My friend is now married with two children and much less time for wotd exercises than I.  And Doctor Dictionary is now just, but we'll still call it DD for continuity.   And some things do not change.  I am still a professional musician, I love statutory analysis from alcoholic beverage licensing laws to zoning regulations, and I think I will always sympathize with the defendant's side of the v. since that was how I first came to be introduced to law.

Thank you for your continued readership and comments.   Let the analysis recommence with the forthcoming:
Pertinent v. Relevant