Wednesday, March 14, 2007

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.

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