Sunday, April 29, 2007

Indigence v. Destitute

These are such depressing words, but DD, in it's infinite wisdom, thought indigence was a good wotd, and that led to a natural comparison with destitute. At least indigence wasn't the wotd for April 15th...

Indigence derives from the Latin "indu" for "in or within" and "egere" for "to be in need or want", which appears to be a little redundant, but fortunately, since the meaning is still "in need", I don't need to go into a lengthy analysis of the etymology or the derivation. Perhaps the double "in" just gives greater emphasis to the state of need which makes it a "seriously impoverished condition" and not merely a basic "in need".

Destitute, on the other hand, derives from the Latin "de" as a form of "dis" for "out, off, apart, away, completely" and "stit" for "place or put". Therefore, destitute means "out of place" and by reasonable extension, without the comforts associated with place (shelter, clothing, food). Of course, then next natural and perhaps lazy association was just simply to be without something whether a basic necessity or not.

So, of course, this leaves us with two words which still appear to have the same meaning, of being without something necessary. Time for OED. Well, OED does shed some light. Destitute has a connotation of having been abandoned or deprived, and therefore, that the circumstances were brought on by another person, while indigence is from the personal perspective of being in want or need, not necessarily due to the actions of another person, and almost exclusively relates a lack of money as due, since with money we could fulfill these basic wants and needs. When she was evicted from her apartment, she became destitute, but she could not pay the rent because of her indigence from choosing not to work. Now, because we have to push the boundaries... Destitute can be used with any living being, but indigence from a standpoint of wanting and needing a basic necessity only applies to people. Standing on the T platform in the light snow, clutch her coat against the wind and half asleep after having missed her stop some 4 stops earlier, she looked destitute, and in pity, the T driver stopped to pick her up even though this was not the inbound platform. True story. When he was downsized from his place of employment of the last 30 years, he looked destitute and confused, but fortunately his 401k ensured that he would not be indigent. The lone obsolete 386 computer looked destitute on a table of Intel Core Duos. Possibly, it you think computers have basic needs (talk to Pixar), but this also goes to the original meaning of being abandoned and out of place, notwithstanding that it was intended for people. Many graduate students are indigent which is an unintended tax classification for living below the poverty line. Beggars on the streets of Cape Town are indigent but not destitute since they have their Township home. Animals in a humane society pull at our heart strings because they are destitute. I can't write any more of these "destitute" sentences--they make me sad. Ok, well, maybe one more. She smiled as the disbarred Plaintiff's counsel left his office, now destitute, and likely to become indigent as a result of being unemployable.

May you never be destitute nor indigent.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Blatant v. Flagrant

By request, and this is a particularly good pair.

Blatant was coined by Edmund Spenser in "The Faerie Queen" in 1596, its etymology is questioned from two origins: first, from the Scottish "blaitant", an archaic form of the word "bleating" and second, from the Latin "blatire" for "to babble or blab". It has been argued that bleating is less what was intended than the blabbing. Bleating connotes an annoying sound, usually pleading and whining, while blabbing connotes a loud publication, telling secrets and gossiping. Without getting too much into blabbing, it just doesn't work once you get past 4th grade and learn that telling secrets is best done sotto voce. But it seems difficult to describe a monster ("the blatant beast") as telling secrets more than as making loud and annoying sounds, and therefore, I would argue that in coining the word, Spencer perhaps intended both elements, folding on each other with a good double meaning. But that doesn't help us, because now we have a word that since its meaning has not been reconciled, still has two distinct and unrelated prongs: (1) the bleating and (2) the blabbing. What is important to note, though, is that there is no element of "obviousness". Loud and annoying does not necessarily give rise to "obvious" (particularly since obvious relates first to things that are seen, not heard). Therefore, DD's Random House definitions which opine for some level of obviousness are just wrong as an over-extension of the word, whereas OED and DD's American Heritage definitions, which are just about loud and annoying are correct. So ultimately, the correct usage of blatant is solely the loud and annoying aspects. That there is a connotation of offensiveness appears to be latent from the blabbing origins (when you give secrets you are offending someone) and/or because of the extent of something that is really that loud or annoying could be offensive. Therefore, blatant as it might mean offensive may only apply when something is extremely loud and annoying (i.e., vulgar) or when being disrespectful.

Therefore, it is correct to say that as he got more drunk, his one-uping stories became more blatant. Here it can mean both the loud and offensive connotation, probably works best because of the double entendre. The blatant barking of guard dog brought the police. It's just loud and annoying, but not offensive, even if it were at 4:00am. It is a blatant mistake to wear red and green to a Hanukkah party. Well, color combination is loud, but here, it was intended because of the annoying and possibly offensive aspects as being disrespectful.

Meanwhile, flagrant comes from the Latin "flagrare" for "to burn", and has come to mean "conspicuously bad, offensive or reprehensible", the idea that when something is burning it is noticeable to everyone and probably not desirable, at least back before modern fire-fighting techniques were available. Remember, even signal fires gave away position to the enemy. Flagrant also still carries the meaning about fire and the quality of fire (red, hot), and has been used metaphorically in that context when describing emotions, such as desire, or war, but I'll focus on the "offensive" aspect, since this is a comparison to blatant. Here, flagrant means obvious, and since obviousness is an evaluative measure, it doesn't apply to people or things, but rather to ideas and activities. He was a flagrant fellow often investing poorly. When applied like this, it tends to have the tangible qualities of red or hot, which would be inappropriate, or else it sounds like it is a malapropism of frivolous, and should just mean wasteful. His flagrant "investing" in Ponzi schemes earned him a financial custodian. Better. The tell-all book about the his patient's psychology sessions was a flagrant breach of the psychotherapist/patient privilege. [Ed. note: they can't all be about attorneys...] Speeding and weaving on the Beltway are flagrant violations of the rules of driving. Flagrant seems to work best with intangibles. "Sampling" his mother's birthday cake the day before her 50th birthday party showed a flagrant disregard for her feelings.

It was flagrant lie to say that she had not been swimming when she showed up in a bikini dripping wet, but it was merely a blatant lie when she proclaimed that she had not enjoyed herself when we were also suffering from the heat. The second lie may have also been flagrant, but getting chlorine or salt out of hair is sometimes quite hard and the effort may not have been worth it, so we can't know for sure. As psychopaths substitute fiction for fact, what they think are merely blatant breaches of etiquette are actually flagrant disregards of social norms. Plaintiff's counsel's motion for summary judgment contained many flagrant misquotes from the deposition which became blatant to me the more he kept repeating them despite correction in the opposition, at oral argument and from the bench. [Yes, there must always be an attorney...]

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Immolation; Incineration

By request from my mother, who I thought would never get this forum, we have:

Immolation derives from the Latin "immolare" for "to sprinkle with holy meal before offering or sacrificing" from "mol(a)" for the sacrificial barley cake (see mill and millstone derivations). It has come to mean not just the sacrifice, but the act of sacrificing, and since the sacrifice was originally by fire, immolate means to kill as a sacrifice by fire, and therefore, immolation still has the implied requirement of fire.

We don't have too many sacrificial rituals left, but there are some easy comparisons. Political statements that used to be made by self-immolation are not made by suicide bombings. The executives were too late in their immolation of the financial records before they were seized by IRS subpoena. Feeding the dying fire on a cold night is an exercise in immolating logs. Maybe, if we are praying for the fire not to go out. Since it is not killed, a phoenix does not undergo immolation as much as spontaneous combustion. The volcano immolated the forest. Again, no. The act of "killing" requires intent, and therefore, must be the act of a person (all legal pretense aside). Animals kill other animals, but not in ritual sacrifice, or I'd have some accounting to my cat when I return home. Some days, I wish I could immolate certain words from usage. Eh. Better to say expunge or eradicate. The word has a very specific usage to "sacrificing" things by fire, and limited expansion since it is quite specific. You need the connotation of sacrificing and you need a good fire. One day I hope have a "Mortgage Immolation Party". Probably not, for many reasons. When the steak slipped through the grille onto the coals it was not just charred, but immolated. Was this truly sacrificed or just an unfortunate accident? She didn't like the "special seasoning" in his burgers and "accidentally" immolated them. Ok, now it's intentional, but is is really a sacrifice or just getting of something bad.

Now, incineration derives from the Latin "cinis" for ashes, and means "to burn, to reduce to ashes". So while immolate carries the fire requirement from the process of the sacrifice, incinerate is a fire without the sacrificial overtone. To incinerate something is just to burn it, without sentiment. The crematorium normally incinerates a coffin, while other articles laid in the coffin by mourners are immolated. Preventative measures to forest fires sometimes involve incinerating scrub brush before the dry season. I have recently discovered the joys of propane in incinerating the weeds in between the paving stones of my walk. Wear gloves!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Circumspect (DD definition link)

Well, I could probably do this etymology on my own, "circum" being Latin for "around" and "spect" for "to look". Let's see if I'm right. Except for the full verb form "specere", yep. So, literally, circumspect means "to look around". Now, in practice, it has taken on a greater meaning of not just "to look around" but to look at everything in order to be aware of everything, and then, that such observation is naturally cautious or prudent.

Of course, with such a meaning of "to look around" as a preventative measure, it really only gets applied to people (and their direct activities). Being an insurance defense attorney, she was religiously circumspect to her environment and any potential liabilities. Well, of course! Some of his more extreme circumspect measures included sweeping the room with infrared before entering. Now, don't confuse this word with "suspect" which implies that the activity is not reputable or credible. My black cat is less than circumspect when she enters a dark room and decides to lay in the entrance. Probably not. I could do to be more circumspect when I enter a dark room to make sure I don't kick my black cat. Better, although as per the above, I never do that. Plaintiff's counsel needs to be circumspect to the lies their clients tell them. Yes. After studying the etymologies of certain words, she will be more circumspect to their correct usage, lest she be misunderstood. Yes.


Ah, gregarious. At the outset, this word tends to be swapped with garrulous, but it is anything but. Garrulous means wordy or talkative, like the oral version of prolix, while gregarious... well.

Gregarious derives from the Latin "grex" or "gregis" for "flock or herd". "Gere" became the verb for "to gather or assemble". It's so nice when a word still means which it was intended to mean without any circular or stilted meaning. Gregarious still means tending to seek the company of others, as well as living in flocks or herds. Now, I will note one quirk. Gregarious was not coined as a word until c. 1668, so apparently, prior to that, people and animals assembled in different ways, or perhaps didn't assemble quite so socially, but for political, business or even just survival needs [compare: convene] or were brought together by a third-party [compare: assemble] or perhaps simply that gregarious doesn't operate as a verb, but only as a modifier and a noun. Gregarious zebras met gregarious ostrich at the watering hole. Yes, clearly. He was a gregarious fellow and could be counted on to attend each social event of the season. Yes. The annual Plaintiff's bar convention was a gregarious occasion, as well as an opportunity for a covert AA meeting. Possibly, as it may be extended to the activities of people/animals and of course this depends on how social you perceive attorneys to be. The teddy-bears on her shelf seemed spookily gregarious. Hehe. Technically, no, since gregarious like so many words, requires sentience, but for sarcasm it could work. Also, if you're like me, and you've seen enough B horror movies, you know that maybe the teddy-bears were sentient.

So, while there's so play with the word, it's still pretty straightforward. I hope that one day this may become a gregarious discussion forum. hmm. Have to think about that usage some more. The internet is such a vague form still--it is a person, or a letter or a telephone or a newspaper or an idea or other intangible. Regardless, it could work since the reference is a grouping conduit. Anyone want to expand the usage with me?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Unpack (Pack)

This was a word by request, but really from the phrase "to unpack a concept". As we know, I don't do phrases, so the question is whether "unpack" is being used correctly in this context.

Pack (unpack) came into existence as a noun c. 1225, having derived messily from Low German/Middle Dutch/Middle Flemish/Old Norse "pak" "pac" "pakki" etc. for a group of persons of low character. It started with merchants, but a pack of thieves might have been redundant, once. As the "group" evolved to a bundle carried by such individuals, it became another verbified noun of the act of making something into a bundle. Then by adding the prefix "un" (not) c. 1425, we get "not bundled" or more accurately "not making something into a bundle". [Ed. note: why did it take 150 years to get the things out of the bag?] So, "unpacking a concept" would be to undo the bundle or more figuratively, to unwrap the concept so one can get at the facets of the concept-bundle. So, the short answer is, yes this is a correct, if slightly expanded, usage of pack/unpack, but it is similar to the expression "mining an idea". "Unpacking a concept" does suggest that there is a finite number of segments within the concept that need to be taken out and addressed, while "mining an idea" has an unidentified number of segments that could be addressed (could be a good vein or nothing at all, but you won't know until you start looking at it), so the former is more definitive while the latter is more speculative. However, as these are both idiomatic phrases, whether one is more or less whatever is irrelevant since they are not being used for the specific meanings of the words. Nor is this a malapropism. Someone at some time deliberately matched "unpack" with "concept" (like "mine" with "idea") as an expanded and evocative usage descriptive of probably how tightly wound, obscure, opaque, etc. the concept was which required someone to carefully, methodically and deliberately dismantle the packaging so that we could get at and therefore understand the real issues inside, and now we are stuck with that pair. This is why I don't do phrases, and yet I seem to still find myself doing them....

Sunday, April 22, 2007


I just need to get a prolific distaste out of my mind...

Cogent comes from the Latin "co" meaning "with, together" and "agere" for "to drive". Crazy, I know. From "to drive together" of course, we get "convincing" and "relevant", but somewhere in between those two meanings, there was a detour through "forcing". I can see how driving together might be forcing, and then from there, "forcing" would arguably be "convincing", and by being convincing, it would arguably be "relevant".

So, cogent is used mostly with activities of people. Plaintiff's counsel could not make a cogent argument for his client's irrational demands. She gave cogent advice to her younger sister about how to impress her English teacher. She presented a cogent design for the layout of the furniture in the bedroom. Her son's cogent whining made her relent on her prohibition on ice cream. Not as good. Something about whining just isn't inherently persuasive as much as it is annoying, plus, since cogent is persuasive, it requires intent, not just sentience, and not just blunt repetition. My cat's cogent meowing reminded me to clean her litter. Maybe, if I elevate her meowing to talking to me and that she uses it rather effectively to motivate me. Similarly, computers do not generate cogent programs, but rather utilize such programs. So, I would stick to activities of people and only with people, unless you have a really smart pet.

I hope you find this entry cogent and useful!

Prolix v. Prolific

What a difference an x can make!

DD's wotd for today is prolix, a word I would not ordinarily consider using. Prolix just sounds hyper-pretentious, and wordy is sufficiently demeaning and verbose has a more neutral content. But it made me consider a word that I do use, prolific, just because they have the same initial sounds and a somewhat related usage. Could there be something more? No.

Prolix, therefore, derives from the Latin "pro" meaning "forward" and "liquere" as derived from "lixus" meaning "water". Thus, the etymology of water moving forward became "pouring forth", not just water, but as expanded to things that act like "water". At some point, though, the expansion got stuck with words. His first draft was always prolix and in need of good editing. Yes. The writer's meeting generated many prolix comedic ideas. Probably not, since prolix only has usage with words and writing, not ideas or word related tangibles or intangibles. And although I am a writer at heart, this word has an exceedingly limited usage.

Prolific, on the other hand, derives from the Latin "proles" meaning "offspring". Therefore, of course, prolific should mean not just the continued etymological meaning of producing offspring and fertility, but that it should be profuse! I bet a man made up that usage, just to keep a woman barefoot and prolific. [Ed. note: this is the converse of seminal, which is also a word I try to avoid.] She was prolific, producing yet another grandchild. This just sounds silly, although it is technically correct to the lesser usages. Her womb is prolific. Flowers are prolific in spring. Better. His demands were prolific of discord. Really poetic, technically correct and idiotic to state this way. Better to say his demands perpetuated discord. Plaintiff's counsel are good at manufacturing prolific litigation. Hmmm, yes, and it's not quite as offensive as I might find it otherwise since it is being applied to Plaintiff's counsel, who might better serve the legal community as barefoot and prolific. So, I think I shall abstain from using prolific except as it specifically refers to offspring, and use profuse or prodigious or some other word for the quality.

Alas, it seems today has been bereft of useful or good words, and now I feel violated and indignant.

Friday, April 20, 2007


By request as a further extension of Cavort v. Frolic, it seems that Consort was also raised.

Consort comes from the Latin "con" (with) and "sors" (a share or lot), and by derivation from "consortem" for a partner or neighbor. The nominative usage derives directly from the etymology for some type of partner, whether that be the royal spouse or an accompanying vessel or even just an agreement, but I'm focusing on the verb. By extension of the noun, it came to mean our current usage of not just one who keeps company, but the act of "keeping company, associating" or "uniting in company". After all, it is not uncommon to "verbify" a noun (e.g., Xeroxing, Googling, spamming).

Now, the reason this all came up was probably due to a malapropism of consort with cavort, giving lascivious undertones to the latter which were actually improperly attributed. So, we have usages like "to cavort with a fellow employee" as I previously stated, but really the better usage is "to consort with a fellow employee". The former is the extreme of the less innocent meaning, and still has the happy prancing, while the latter is true intent that these two are engaged in a tryst. In the converse, we have "to consort with the enemy" being mistakenly said as "to cavort with the enemy". Not that I don't think the listener wouldn't understand what was being said, but the former is correct meaning that the two were likely plotting some coup, which the latter really means that the two were prancing somewhere merrily. Could happen, but was probably not what was intended. After figuring out the etymology of cavort with the whole horse thing, I don't think I'll ever confuse these words, and I'll just reserve consort for any sexual overtones and keep cavort pure.

As for usage, it has to be among sentient beings since consort carries an implied meaning of consent to the association. Dogs don't consort with cats, is not just true biologically, but also in order to maintain a calm household. The queen and her consort attended the ball. Duh. Weeds attempt unsuccessfully to consort with grass. Possibly, in a more expanded usage, giving a sarcastic degree of sentience to the weeds. That chair does not consort with that table. No, unless you are a decorator. I don't deign to consort with individuals who misuse common words. Ahh. Now, I feel better.


Well, this was a curious little word I stumbled upon last night as I was doing some editing. Steradian comes from the Greek "stereos" for solid and a derivative of the Latin "radius" for "a staff, spoke of a wheel or beam of light". So what does that mean for a "solid ray"? Well, in the technical geometrical sense of the word, it means a unit of area of a sphere proportioned to its radius. For those who don't remember their high school calculus, this can visually look like the rind of a wedge or pyramidial slice of a melon. The oceans represent 9 steradians of the earth surface. Probably. The Sydney Opera House is based on recombining all the sterandians of a sphere. Possibly. The astrophysicist was only able to view a fraction of a steradian of the North Ecliptic Pole due to the unusual telescope mount. Yes. But doesn't anyone really understand that, other than my husband, my husband's friends, my friends... Back to reality. How can I use this word in every day conversation? Well, the flashlight illuminated a steradian of light on the dark alley wall. hmmm. After our wonderful Chinese meal, we left steradian orange wedges on the plate? Throw out the blueberries if they are more than 2 pi steradian covered in mold. Accurate, but incomprehensible. I cut the cantaloupe into steradian slices to put down the garbage disposal? As I sat outside one hot sunny day, licking my Ben & Jerry's oatmeal cookie dough crunch ice cream, I contemplated the percentage of chocolate pieces that were visible in a given steradian of the scoop. If I can't see the chocolate, how do I know I got my money's worth??? She cut a steradian swath of grass on the hill? If pressed, and only if the hill is a hemisphere. His mohawk was nearly a perfect steradian of hair shooting from his head.

Well, that was fun to explore its application to spheres and spherical like things, but I think we can agree that even in the absurd, this word has no practical usage. It would confound and confuse the average listener. So, I'll leave this one to my scientist friends, who should be working now, and save its usage for me for those rare esoteric moments when I don't want to be understood.


This one came to me on a lark. :-)

Obsessive comes from the Latin "ob" for "over, on, toward or against" and "sid(ere)" for "to sit". The combinative Latin form of "obsidere" then came to mean "to occupy, frequent or besiege". I can see how "to sit on or over" might come to mean "occupy or besiege" c. 1503 as in to take over a place and then set up camp, but how does that come to mean "to frequent", except that it might take a few tries to actually conquer the area. But I'm not really happy with that transition. Apparently, the real transition comes that obsessed in the besieging sense came to be associated with evil spirits, and then c. 1605 that these spirits would possess the individual in a persistent influence or idea. [Ed. note: I'll have so see how this compares to "possessed" later.] Then it's just another little leap from persistent to frequent, possibly as the influence was not as pestering, but still regular, but persistent and frequent is a comparison for another day. From the derivation about the evil spirits, we end up with the current definition of something that occupies ones thoughts, feelings or desires.

Now, in practice, obsessive has some great usages, even beyond the OCD. She was obsessive about completing her wotd assignments. Yes, but unfortunately, I'm not as consistent as I'd like to be, and of my friends with whom I originally engaged in this diversion, they've fallen off a long time ago. His obsessive need for approval actual drove away most of his friends. Obsessive works with people and intangibles such as they derive from the activities or emotions of people, but obsessive requires a degree of sentience. My obsessive computer keeps asking me for my password. No, but cute, as it might raise the level of my computer to AI. My cat is obsessive about licking all the lemon juice out of my pores. Yes. Sentience doesn't require intent; just some degree of cognitive thought. After all, it is the evil spirit compelling the activity. After the attempt on her life, paranoia and depression obsessed her waking thoughts, while memories of the incident obsessed her dreams.

And finally, checking a blog every hour might be considered obsessive. Let me know.


Hehehe. Let the evil laughter commence, even before I start to discuss the word, because I love this word...

Impugn comes from the Latin "in" (against) and "pugnare" (to fight, from "pugnus" for fist), meaning literally, to fight against physically, so it should come as no surprise that it has come to mean now just "to attack by words or argument, to make insinuations as to credibility", having lost the physical attack, although one of the obsolete meanings was to physically fight against. As I continue to explore these wotd, I find with increasing frequency that etymologies which had an element of physicality against someone became solely a verbal issue. Something to consider.

Of course, one of my favorite usages is the "archaic" one, about "to vilify", and there is actually a statement on the record in a deposition where I told Plaintiff's counsel "not to impugn my good character" with his remarks about the nature of my questions to his client. It was an ad hominum attack because he wanted to try to throw me off my game since it wasn't going so well for his client. Ultimately, got the case dismissed on a motion for summary judgment, which has about a 1 in 20 chance of succeeding.

But in more regular usage, all cross-examination implicitly impugns the credibility of the evidence being presented, and perhaps impugns the credibility of the person testifying as well. There distinction between the "archaic" usage and the common definition is whether the comment is directly or indirectly attacking the person. "You're stupid" or "didn't they teach you to xxx in law school" directly impugns, while "how could you know the color of the car when you were distracted and looking in the other direction" indirectly impugns. Now, since impugn calls into question credibility, it can only be used with the intangibles of people (statements, ethics, motivations). The obsolete usage of to physically attack someone is still between people. The lion does not impugn the lion tamer, even in the obsolete. Nor does the boxer doesn't usually impugn his opponent, unless it is a grudge match, because it still implies an element that there is a personal matter. After impugning the character of the lady, her champion took up a sword to impugn the scoundrel. Yes, getting at both usages. And finally, I regularly impugn the propriety of using words incorrectly. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Because I'm currently out-of-town and don't have as much consistent free time to keep up with wotd (plus, there are some recent words that rather annoy than inspire me--trice? bedaub???), here is another from my archives.

Suasion. I remember this word raising my hackles a couple of years ago when it was the wotd on August 13, 2001. [Ed. note: why must DD recycle words so quickly? It became wotd again on September 10, 2006. Probably means we are due for it again on November 7, 2011. Get ready!] DD defines both "suasion" and "persuasion" as "the act of persuading". Now, normally, I would start with there are no true synonyms and distinguish the etymologies on each, except the etymologies are a little fuzzy. Persuasion says it comes from Latin, "persuasion", while suasion says it comes from "suasion", so these are unhelpful, and the mere addition of the "per" meaning "through" doesn't add anything. Persuasion does not really mean through suasion, because the definition of suasion is backward to that construction. Suasion means through persuasion (and therefore should actually be "perpersuasion"). Or do the “per”s cancel? So, I think we have an issue of lazy usage being justified retroactively. If only I were near my OED. Maybe I'll supplement later. But, I'll make one last stab at a distinction, just for old times sake. The usage of suasion in the examples is non-specific, to a general perspective (e.g., moral or cultural norms), while persuasion is for a definite idea or opinion. I regularly persuade the judge to my argument, or try to persuade people to order different things off the menu so we can share and sample, but I might try to suade a child to be kind to animals or to always say please and thank you.

Good luck suading or persuading, as you see fit...

Efficacious v. Effective

Part because this was the wotd a couple of days ago and part by request for the comparison to effective, I finally have time to think about how these words relate.

Well, it turns out, I don't have to think to hard. Efficacious comes from the Latin "ef", a derivative of "ex" for "out" and "facere" for "to do or make", meaning poetically, to bring about and effective comes from the same Latin origin. Thus, the etymology of effective is consistent with the current usage. So, the only difference is the second adjectival ending on effective making it into efficacious is, as we learned in "robustious", that the second adjectival ending makes the original adjective into "possessing the qualities of" whatever the original adjective was. As I described then, it is adjective-lite.

So, in practice, lawmakers aspire to make effective law, but only end up with efficacious law until it is overturned by the Court. Yes, and true. Efficacious medicines are good enough so that the manufacturers won't get sued, but not effective enough to actually cure the disease since there's no market for that. Yes, and cynically true. Telling the younger brother to stop hitting his older sister as they were driving cross-country was efficacious in short bursts, but playing the on-board DVD on "The Little Mermaid" was effective to stop not only the fight, but all whining, questions and other noises from the back seat. Yes, and it's a good movie. Plaintiff's counsel's oppositions to my motions for summary judgment are only ever efficacious. Plaintiff's counsel's themselves are never really effective. Do I need to state my position on this?

Therefore, I would tend to make effective use of effective, and save efficacious when I want to make fun of something that should have been effective.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Cavort v. Frolic

And since I am stuck in the airport, waiting for my flight, I will engage in a few more words.

Well, cavort just conjures images of prancing, which in turn raised frolic as an almost natural counterpart. I'll talk about frolic v. detour later.

Cavort has a questionable etymology, allegedly from Latin "cur(vare)" (curved) and "volvere" (turn or roll) through old French "vault" (arch), it became a curved leap, and then somehow, something someone would do when leaping from a horse, likely because c. 1565, this became a term in dressage (curvet for "little curve") for a leap a horse would do from a rearing position springing its hind legs and descending onto its front legs. Obviously, someone then either thought that the dismount was as graceful as the horse's leap, or that the rider was acting like a horse (or both), and c. 1790 the American term "cavort" was born of a "cavault", a curved leap, or the high spirited prancing of the horse. One step further and we get "lively and boisterous fun" likely from how much "fun" we think the horse is having when unnaturally jumping like that (or maybe the audience reaction). Whew.

Now, in practice, cavort has a broader usage. Of course, we talk about children cavorting in the meadow. That's harmless and innocent. Dolphins cavorting around the ship. Also harmless and innocent. And then cavorting with an colleague. hehehe. And therein lay the overtones of "making merry" more than the literal "leaping". Do I need to spell it out?

Back to innocence. Frolic has nothing to do with a horse, but comes from the German "frolich" for happy, ironically enough, coined at around the same time as the dressage term of curvet (c. 1538). Frolic just means happy, but through usage has also come to mean how one acts when one is just so happy, as in to be playful, prone to merrymaking, and possibly the occasional prank. How "happy" became "prank", I don't even want to contemplate, unless we keep it at the innocence of hiding books and tapping the wrong shoulder, and nothing malevolent. Think giddy, maybe even a touch loopy, and that's the level of prank that is really at issue. No one would ever say the frolicking children put tacks on the teacher's chair. But the frolicking children would cavort in the meadow. So compared to cavort, frolic just means the state of happiness which may be exhibited in some manner, while cavort means the leaping, regardless of the happiness, although the happiness may be implied by the fact of the leaping (or the fact of the proper type of leaping). I don't think the dolphins cavorted because they were intrinsically happy, but because the ship gave them a good draft to "play" in. While, his normal morning frolic through the office was clouded by the imminent IRS audit.

Well, my plane is going to board shortly, and thus I must abandon this frolic through wotd in favor of my detour perhaps to my destination, weather permitting. Just a quick foreshadowing.... ;-)

Bluster; Deluge

In honor of the East Coast weather, I have decided to abandon today's wotd in favor of two more appropriate words.

Bluster derives from the Norse "blastr" for "blowing or hissing", and still means to roar of be tumultuous, as a wind. I don't think it quite means the gale forces that are whipping around the house, now, but definitely enough to blow my hair in all directions. The aspect of the "hissing" has been mostly lost, transmuted into just generic loudness. And really, the wind doesn't make a hissing as much as it make a whooshing or howling, unless hissing is a bad whistle. But all in all, this word still retains much of its original etymology through to usage. Of course, the idea of the blowing wind also got applied to people who are so inclined as to sound like blowing wind, but that doesn't bother me. I probably would have made that leap anyway in my "expanded" usages. So, the blustering wind flipped over the boat last night and knocked down several power lines. All his blustering about the wind did not stop Mother Nature's onslaught. And I can only hope that my flight today will not be accosted by sudden drops in altitude due to blustering winds. Plaintiff's counsel's blustering did not conceal the fact that his client had stood him up for the hearing.

Now, it does appear to me that "blustering winds" has either become a catch phrase, or may be somehow redundant in the face of bluster referring to wind which already blows. If the wind doesn't blow, is it really wind? Or just stagnant air. But bluster does add a level of description to the wind well above breeze or zephyr. What is odd is that blusterer doesn't have the same connotation of being another noun shaving description of the wind unlike breeze or zephyr, but seems to apply more to the person who talks like such wind. A real blusterer, he was mostly ignored by his colleagues. Not, the blusterer unexpectedly tipped over the lawn statuary--unless this is the person pulling a practical joke. So, there is a need to still use "bluster" with "wind" in order to get at the noun.

And where there is wind, can rain be far behind? Deluge comes from the Latin "diluvium" for "flood" having gone through a couple of evolutions prior with "diluere" for "to wash away or dissolve", having derived from "lavere" for "to wash". I suppose with enough water, anything would be "dissolved" or "washed away"... And deluge still means a great flood or inundation of water. So, the rains on the East Coast are threatening to deluge most cities with a foot or more of water. Now, while I don't tend to use bluster outside the real wind, notwithstanding that I have met my fair share of Plaintiffs' counsels (they mostly grandstand, not bluster). But deluge! Now, there's a word I can sink my teeth into. She was deluged in paperwork, bills, discovery responses, accolades, blog requests [well, I can hope!]... Anything that can be likened to a flood works equally well with deluge, tangible or intangible.

So, please stay warm and dry, and may your wind and rain for today only be in the form of these words!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Accede v. Concede

Today's wotd, accede, has raised my own comparison that I have been want to do for some time, particularly given that these are verbs I use rather regularly. It's about time I understand their true nuances.

Accede derives from the Latin "accedere" for "ad" (to, toward) and "cedere" (to move, to yield). Poetically, then the word literally means to move or yield to or toward something or someone, and thus, to agree or assent. Meanwhile, concede derives from the same root "cedere", but with the prefix "con" meaning with or together. Therefore, poetically, concede means to move or yield with or together, and therefore, apparently derives to mean "to acknowledge as true, just or proper" or "to make a concession". Ah, the difference a prefix can make. Well, the evolution of the usage of accede makes sense, the idea that as one comes to accept a thought, one moves towards that side, whether literally (back when voting occurred by counting bodies on the two sides of a room) or figuratively (still retaining that convention). But the "con" prefix does not tend to add any veracity to the decision, except inasmuch as when people move "together" on an idea, they jointly (and severally) believe it is correct for whatever reason--else why would they yield to the idea.

Unfortunately, compounding the problem, concede and accede are used nearly interchangeably--that one may both accede to someone's wishes and concede to that same someone's wishes. So what is the difference? Accede connotes a degree of belief and willingness on the part of the one changing a position, while concede connotes a reluctance or pressure to make the change. Parents often accede to their children's whims every now and then. But the lower ranked chess player conceded the win to his opponent. Perhaps he shouldn't have--there is still much to be learned in losing a match. Boot camp teaches its enlisted personnel accede to the rigors of training, but never to concede to the enemy. Eh, in a pinch. To move on in oral argument to the substantive issue does not concede the procedural issue as much as accede to the wishes of the Court perhaps to discuss the weightier issue.

Ok, so my instincts have been right because the distinction has only been based on the connotations and not the etymology, or even the definitions. Go figure. I accede to my instincts, and concede that DD may never be useful.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Spoonerism; Metathesis

Today's wotd from DD is spoonerism. Ordinarily, I would be unimpressed with a word, the origin of which is someone's name, since that would seem very mean-spirited. But there we have it. Spoonerism derives from the Rev. William A. Spooner, who was known to swap the initial sounds of words (blushing crow instead of crushing blow). So, not only does this word have an uninteresting etymology, which, for what its worth, is still the sole meaning of the word, but it really only has that one usage. Drunk, he was more inclined to slurring words than demanding another "bold keer". Tongue twisters lead to interesting spoonerisms. Even as I put on my creative thinking cap, I still am having a hard time inventing any "expanded" or "extreme" usages for this word. Could it be a spoonerism to misintroduce a couple by identifying each with the other's name? A different kind of initial sound being swapped? Probably not because the reason one tends to do that is because a pair of names is learned in an order, and then the reflex is to say the names in that order regardless of where the people are standing relative to one another. It might be a stretch of a spoonerism to connect the leads backward on a switch, but probably not. Swapping alone is not the critical element. It has to be swapping of something initial of a multipart construction, whether that be a word or something else. Well, I'm not interested in trying to figure out any more potential misusages of this word. If I stumble upon one later, I'll update this post.

But knowning that I would find spoonerism dull, I thought I'd add metathesis, which I think is a fascinating word. Metathesis comes from the Greek "meta" for "to change" and "tithenai" for "to put or set", so quite literally, to change place or transposition. It applies to a physical transposition as well as a linguistic transposition, but the physical meaning has become almost exclusively reserved to chemistry, leaving the linguistic meaning to the lay folk. Thus, metathesis is the swapping of sounds when pronouncing a single word. "Psaghetti" "ephelant" or "methatesis". From the first two, you can guess that such pronounciations are usually done by children. Now, metathesis only occurs in pronounciation--in writing, the excuse is a typo. "Teh" or "adn" are not metathesis, but rather the fact that I can type faster than the computer can process my key strokes (although my spell checker may disagree for the number of times it hasn't auto-corrected "revelent"). And when I write longhand, that is still not metathesis because I haven't transposed anything as much as I've started the beginning of one word now with the ending of the next, and my brain has gotten ahead of my hand. [Ed. note: what's the word for that?] Pig Latin is deliberate metathesis. Transliteration of R/L by Asian speakers is not metathesis since there is no swapping of sounds self-contained in a word, but a swapping of sounds regardless of whether they exist in the word. So, like spoonerism, metathesis has a consistent usage with its etymology and basically one non-specialized usage. Now, does metathesis have more opportunity for expansion? Absolutely, just for using its basic meaning of transposition outside chemistry and linguistics. Children lining up for recess often undergo a hierarchical metathesis. Although applying both of those nickel words to children and recess just sounds like I'm writing some psychology dissertation. Mediators try to get the parties to engage in a mental metathesis to encourage them to understand the issues from the other side. Magic box tricks are not so much metathesis as sleight of hand.

So, I simply love this word, metathesis. It rolls so trippingly off the tongue and few people know what it means that I can yet again be opaque in my very explicit meaning. Unfortunately, I am more guilty of spoonerisms than metathesis, and would rather it be in the inverse so as never to have the word spoonerism applied to me. Still sounds mean.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


This is another archival post, and one of my favorites as well. Nescience.

Quite honestly, I never heard this word before, and that intrigues me. Nescience has a unique enough pronounciation that I don't automatically associate it with anything else. It's got "science" which is the knowledge part, but the "ne", doesn't leap out to me that it is negative prefix (unlike "un" "in" or "de" or just plain "not). Its Latin origins of "nescire" allegedly for "not" "to know" don't help either. So, given this word on the SATs, I probably would have gotten the answer wrong, and that intrigues me all the more. Her nescience on the derivation of the word nescience ensured that she would miss the question? His nescience on how a woman would respond to his plebian pick up line guaranteed that he would never have a first date. I wonder if it would apply to tangible knowledge rather than abstract concepts. His nescience on how to set up the TiVo despite the explicit instructions in the manual, which he stubbornly refused to read, meant that they were always tethered to watching prime time TV live? Seems a bit overkill. Her nescience about the ceiling collapse of the Big Dig stunned her listeners? Or her nescience about a recent Supreme Court opinion in her area of practice caused her to be fired? Maybe. I think nescience would best be paired with a lack of understanding or lack of knowledge of something that is supposed to be well, or at least widely, known, unless you really wanted to elevate the knowledge that the person doesn't understand for emphasis (i.e., raising the failure to know how to plug something in compared to knowledge of the problems of world hunger, as if to say everyone else but you knows how to plug in a TiVo). I'll have to mull this word over some more. Her nescience about standard choral music while being in one of the premiere choruses in the country continued to cause amusement and a bit of condescention from her fellow choresters. Nescience. Interesting. Has possibilities.

Ok, time to go do something less scholarly, like catch up on reading
Variety and The New Yorker so I have less nescience. Still sounds like it should be an adjective to me, even though that's nescient... I'll keep working on it.

Putsch v. Coup

Well, my gut response to Putsch was that was not a word, since it is capitalized, but then I remembered it was of German origin, where they capitalize all their nouns. My second response was what was wrong with coup? And therein lies the rub.

Coup comes from the Greek "kolaphos" for a blow or slap, through the Latin "colaphus" for a cuff or blow to the face/ear, and ultimately through the old French "colp" for "to cut or strike". It's not hard to imagine how a physical swift, unexpected slap to the face which impugns ones dignity could be used to mean a metaphorical swift, unexpected slap to ones dignity by removing someone from power. Meanwhile, Putsch comes from the same word in Schweizerdeutsch meaning a violent blow or push, from onomatopoeia for the action. Both definitely have the implicit meaning of usurping power in some manner, but Putsch is more violent in its origin than coup, a push being more physical than a slap, and therefore, a Putsch may be effect by mere brute force of numbers, while a coup is usually associated with a smaller group. Also, Putsch need not be sudden, unlike coup, which is unexpected to the recipient. Finally, Putsch evolved specifically in 1830 relative to a revolt in Zurich, while coup has existed to describe any clever, successfully executed but unexpected plan since c. 1400. Therefore, Putsch only refers to government overthrows, while coup has broader usage, even though it is colloquially immediately associated solely with government overthrow.

So, while I may not have much need for the use of Putsch, largely because so few people will know what the word means, and might think, since I can pronoun it with a proper German accent (I'll work on my Schweizerdeutsch later), that I am merely saying "push", coup has so much more potential. Was it a Putsch to try to impeach Clinton? This past senatorial election was a Putsch to the Republican leadership. Yes, and yes. But these sentences would sound just as good, and a bit more understandable with "coup". Was it a coup to try to impeach Clinton? The Democratic party mounted a coup of the Republican leadership in the last senatorial election. It may not have been sudden, but it was definitely unexpected to many. His attempted coup to have the house for an evening of beer and poker by encouraging his wife to go to the movies with her friends failed when she discovered the keg in the garage. Perhaps, but plan or scheme works better. It was a real coup to get the celebrity endorsement away from his competitor. This is a common expression, even without the express idea of taking it away from someone else, which is otherwise implied. Knowing that it was going to be cold that night, she staged a coup to get all the covers. Yes.

And again, while I don't do phrases or foreign languages, and particularly not the combination of both, I will make a passing reference that "coup d'etat" and "coup de grace", both French, utilize the meaning of "blow" for "coup", but still retain the meaning of taking power, either from the state (d'etat) or a final act (de grace).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Prior to today, there had been a derth of good words (well, maybe just a lull), but I did promise some more nouns.

Yesterday's wotd was abecedarian, and I would sooner use animadversion in casual conversation than this idiotic construct. Abecedarian pretty clearly derives from the first four letters of the alphabet, apparently as coined by the Romans. [Ed. note: what were they drinking? Lead???] Ok, so clearly, it means at least on one level, of or relating to the alphabet, and then things that are arranged alphabetically (although that descriptor of "alphabetic order" seems pretty comprehensive and useful), and then finally, things that are as basic as the alphabet (or one who is just beginning to learn a new subject including the alphabet), and it is only in this last usage that we can really get to anything interesting. Well, there's the obvious that little children are quintessential abecedarians, without any derogatory overtones. They really are just learning everything, including the alphabet. 1Ls are abecedarians to the law, and remain so through the first few years of practice. True, and likely uncontested, but I might still prefer novice or acolyte despite the religious overtones. Most Plaintiff's counsel remain abecedarians as to how to evaluate a case, let alone how to write a motion. Accurate and derogatory rolled into one! And on the adjective side of the word, we have his files were not abecedarian, but chronological. Only because of the reference to chronological do we understand what was really intended by the use of abecedarian. Or after having read a sonnet for the first time, one has only the most abecedarian understanding of its depth or meaning. Yes, but rudimentary is better. Or Now, we get to the possible usage. The daughter of a wealthy merchant, she exclaimed "how abecedarian!" when presented with a ring of paste and plate gold, and carefully put the thing aside. But how many times do we really get to dismiss something as "quaint". Well, I guess only when get the mail. Most Plaintiff's counsel's arguments are so abecedarian as to be utterly laughable. Noun, adjective, it's still a questionable word, and it's usage, pompous. I've got better in my arsenal to use on Plaintiff's counsel than this fodder.


I find that I am rarely ambivalent about a word, and rivulet is no exception. I like this word. I use this word, even though it is limited in its usage. So, let's get started:

Now, even before I check the etymology of this word, doesn't rivulet look like it means "little river"? "Rivu" looks like it derives from some word like "river" and "et" is the diminutive ending for "little" ("et" for masculine gender nouns and "ette" for feminine gender nouns). So, it should come as no surprise that rivulet derives from the Latin "rivulus", a diminutive of "rivus" for river. That's it. Nothing special about the etymology to the current usage. Still the same little river. What is fun about this word is the usage. Of course, the torrential rains made every rivulet into a raging surge of water. Or after washing her car, the rain dripped off in myriad rivulets. Her tears ran down her face like rivulets. Bad wine doesn't have "legs" but "rivulets". So, clearly, rivulet can be used with the actual stream, water in other forms, and things that act like water (running, dripping, flowing). But that's too easy. Lacking a good vocabulary, his anger did not so much pour from his mouth as a stream, but rather as a rivulet. Maybe. Comments on her blog were barely rivulets. Possibly, and accurate too. Plaintiff's counsel's argument had all the force of a rivulet. hehehe. Life is like a rivulet... Ok, that was a bad attempt at humor. Clearly, rivulet can work with other intangibles that may be analogized (metaphorized???) to water, and not even just for sarcastic value! Now, just as an aside, rivulet is only a noun. Her ideas were rivuleting or his sweat rivuleted down his back? I won't even begin to discuss how wrong those are. It is a fine noun and has plenty of opportunity to be used just as the noun that it is. Let the usages of rivulet flow!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Obviate; Obfuscate

Well, obviate came up recently as a wotd, and I just couldn't get enough of words with a "b", ever since the silent "b" of ostensible.

Obviate comes from the Latin "obvius" for "against" "the way", but colloquially meaning "that is in the way; that goes against" which got conjugated into "to act contrary to; go against" for the act of the person rather than the physical placement of a person or thing. However, by the time of the Renaissance, the word then came to mean "to meet and do away with". So, how and why did the perspective of the word change from describing the impediment to getting rid of the impediment, for which DD is completely inadequate on this point. OED's entry may shed some light on this. Apparently, there is an obsolete [I'll get to this word later!] definition which means "to meet, encounter; hence to withstand, oppose (a person or thing)," consistent with the idea that meeting someone or something inherently in your way was acting against by withstanding or opposing this person or thing. A second usage evolved contemporaneously to this obsolete usage then that the act of meeting the obstacle [another word I'll get to later] was "to meet and do away with" the obstacle, and then rather than wait to meet the obstacle, the word's meaning evolved further to prevent the anticipated obstacle. So, we can see the rather straightforward expansion of the word, but in no way does it really mean with it's etymological roots suggest.

As for usage, this is a great word, but like clarion, has a particular catch phrase usage. Obviate the need or obviate a need. The anticipated closings due to snow may obviate a need to call in sick. However, unlike clarion, the word can be used without sounding odd alone. The video tape corroborating the defendant's alibi obviated all doubt as his credibility. It should be noted that obviate now as a preventative of the obstacle means that it will completely remove the obstacle, not merely mitigate or lessen. In fact, you might hope to mitigate the effect of an obligation you could not obviate, such as a family dinner. And as a preventative now, obviate works with abstractions which are based on perception/thought (duties, needs, tendencies) (his new medications obviated his thoughts of suicide) and still with the conduct which was in opposition (her co-counsel's offering to write the opposition to Plaintiff's emergency motion to compel obviated her having to stay late; Plaintiff's acceptance of the offer of settlement obviated the trial). Furthermore, the obstacle doesn't need to be so onerous or thorough as it once meant as long as the obstacle is perceived to be contrary to an implied desired action. So, perhaps Plaintiff's acceptance of the offer of settlement unfortunately obviated the trial since she was confident she could secure a defense verdict. That the conductor was not too familiar with the music to give appropriate cues obviated the chorus' from the need to memorize the piece. The usage is correct, although the sentiment is not. Sometimes is it more useful to memorize such music in order to deal with a tentative conductor. But I still tend to use obviate with a need, and reserve verbs which are more simply understood alone, such as exonerate, alleviate or just plain remove, and as for the family dinner obligation, that would be a stay of execution.

Now, obfuscate just sounds great, with all those consonants! It does not roll trippingly off the tongue, and in not doing so, it draws the attention of the listener, just as the people who have trouble saying it also draw the attention of the listener. So, practice this word at home before you try it in public. Similarly, in writing, it looks odd (that "bf" combo) that is also stands out, like a possible typo.

Anyway, back to the word. Obfuscate comes from the Latin "obfuscare" for to darken over. There still is a retained meaning of simply "to darken", but I can hardly ever believe I would say "Let's obfuscate the room, honey" or "the recent power outage obfuscated entire city blocks" or even "on a sunny day, only the clouds can obfuscate the hills". It's just too odd, although I will note that since obfuscate has that preposition of "over" from the original Latin, any use of "to darken" must be darkening by covering or making opaque so light cannot pass, therefore, only the last usage is really correct. Obfuscate the parrot cage for the evening. Obfuscate the light bulb by adding a lamp shade. But in the nature of darkening, as it covers or opaques something from view, obfuscate has taken on a meaning of covering or opaquing intangibles from understanding, and then finally covering or opaquing an individual from understanding. He successfully avoided the speeding ticket by obfuscating the officer in a lengthy explanation of his mother's illness which he just got the phone call from his ex-wife while he was at his daughter's piano recital... But I don't prefer that usage, since I don't really associate obfuscate with confusing people as much as with burying an idea that one does not want to be know. He successfully avoided the speeding ticket by obfuscating his need to get to the beach in a lengthy explanation of his mother's illness... That's better. I was never able to obfuscate my grandmother into thinking I hadn't had the candy. Maybe, in a pinch, although dupe is better. I was never able to obfuscate my fiendish designs to garner another piece of candy in the veil of innocent. Perhaps a bit too poetic, but passable. Plaintiff's counsel tried to obfuscate the judge of his client's weak case by arguing the equity rather than the law. Yes. And this is where I tend to use this word, and have heard this word used. So, second usage only for me as we try to obfuscate inconsistent theories, lame excuses, guilt, blame... You get the picture. Works like a charm, perhaps because the word obfuscate tends to obfuscate people.

Friday, April 6, 2007


Well, if I must, but only because it popped up as today's wotd. Clarion comes from the Latin "clarus" for "clear", through the Middle Latin and Middle English "clarion" for a trumpet. And DD gives no indication of how or why that occurred. So, off to OED. OED doesn't have anything more to add, except for the irony that the primary definition of clarion given by DD ("loud and clear") is the 5th definition of OED, where the other four are the nouns relating to a trumpet or trumpet shaped thing. But I'm only analyzing the adjective here, since that twas the part of speech initially raised, and the trumpet aspect is obvious, at least among musicians. What OED does provide is an historical analysis of the etymology, and it appears that the first appearance of clarion in any sense was as the noun in 1325, although the first official listed usage wasn't until 1384 with Chaucer, again, as the instrument. The idea of the sound being a descriptor didn't appear until 1858. So, clearly, the instrument preceded the usage at issue, and the description of "loud and clear" evolved from the sound of the instrument, which name of the instrument evolved from the sound it created. Talk about circular reasoning. Cute. So, we have the clarion call of hungry children. Possibly. There is the inherent association with war which might be too far afield of hunger. The commonly understood clarion call to war probably originally was a trumpet sounding, and then when something other than trumpets provoked or signaled war, the metaphor was still retained. Telling the brass section to sound more clarion would probably be an insult, particularly if there were a clarion player. As I toy with expanded usages, it seems that as an adjective, clarion is inextricably tied to call. The clarion gun blasts at the firing range necessitated the use of proper ear protection. This just sounds silly, although it is technically correct. The installation of more cell phone towers is intended to make every call clarion. Do I need to say it? No. My cat's clarion mews are that much more pronounced in the bathroom. Possibly, where a mew is closer to a call or a cry. So, we are left with exploiting the phrase "clarion call". I don't typically do phrases, but I'll deign this once. The phrase "lights out" was a clarion call to sleep. Perhaps, just for the juxtaposition of the inference of war v. sleep. Being down by only one run was the clarion call to rally in the bottom of the ninth. Depends on how competitive you are that it would be akin to war. Plaintiff's counsel's rambling motion for summary judgment was the clarion call to write an opposition that would show him for the arrant idiot that he was. Yes!

Thursday, April 5, 2007


Oooo! I love this word. I discovered it when I was a sophomore in high school, and as you may have already noticed from my older posts (Galumph), I actually still use this word in casual conversation, although since there is the condescention meaning, it's hardly a casual world. However, what I didn't realize in high school was it's unusual etymology. Deign comes from the Latin "dignari" meaning "to judge worthy", but along the way, that devolved into "to condescend". I suppose that if one is judging the situation or another to be "worthy" then the idea that someone could make such a judgment is rather arrogant, and the individual making the judgment might look at the one being judged as inferior. So, ironically, the condescention cuts both ways: that the individual judged is less than worthy of the interest of the one doing the judging and that the one doing the judging is so far above the one being judged as to make the judging a waste of time. In neither case is the inference pretty, so be careful when and where you use it.

Now, of course, the word should probably be used only with people, although my cat might disagree when she deigns to lay on top of me. But that may also be me elevating her conduct with a bit of sarcasm. Since the word requires a judgment, that implicitly requires a cognitive process to evaluate, which is almost entirely reserved to people or at least those mammals who think. The lion deigned to perform the tricks for the crowd. The chimpanzee deigned to complete the tests for the scientists. Probably, but again, it is sarcasm. It's almost always used with an infinitive following, although DD indicates it can be used without. He deigned her apology or he deigned his company with her for her embarassing him at the party. Yes, but it still sounds odd to my ear. Better to say: he deigned to accept her apology or he deigned to stand with her. And then by Hemmingway's standards, you can be that much more expressive because now you have two verbs. And just as a bit of further irony, those who are put in the position to judge by law do not deign anything--they simply judge. Therefore, deign requires that the one making the judgment either be self-appointed (I deign to use certain words which I otherwise deem unworthy; my grandmother deigned to hear my pleas to stay up late when I was little) and/or be viewed by others as not competent to make such judgment (I watched as she deigned to ladle soup at the homeless shelter; Plaintiff's counsel deigned to consider my reasonable offer of settlement).

I deign to endorse this word would be inappropriate since I really do think this is a good word. It can be said with great acerbity and get the point across even though people may not know exactly what you are saying. "Do you deign to speak to me?" tossed in during an argument can be quite off-putting. Enjoy and use wisely!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


I know, this doesn't look like a word, and I agree, but DD once said it was, and this was what I wrote about it then.

Robustious. Personally, I think this is a silly word, and I have seriously contemplated writing a humor article about silly words (leading candidates are sough, piebald and supposititious--DD likes those tacked on "ous" endings). This is yet another example of DD taking a perfectly good adjective and making it into—another adjective. Unless you really needed the alliteration, I'd just stick with boisterous (or vigorous) for the "ous" ending, which is the more common word or just use robust. "A robust romantic figure" is just as expository as "a robustious romantic figure". I find it amusing, additionally, that when you look up robust in DD, it does not list robustious as a related word. But again, returning to the theory that every word has a unique meaning, robustious must either have such a separate meaning (Hellenic v. Hellenistic being my favorite as the difference between pre- and post- Alexander the Great) or else be a mistake of English grammar (robust is sufficient for all usages, and robustious is just adding an unnecessary adjectival ending to a perfectly good adjective). The idea behind adding a second adjectival ending is that it makes it _like_ the original adjective, but somehow lesser than the pure original adjective, hence the Hellenistic period was like the Hellenic period as having derived from it, but not the same as it had been tarnished by the influence of Alexander. Historic v. historical works the same way, where the latter is pretending to be history ("history-lite"), not the history itself. An historical recreation versus an historic renovation. Which brings us back to robust v. robustious. DD defines robust as "1) strong and healthy; hardy; _vigorous_; 2) strongly or stoutly built; 3) suited to or requiring bodily strength or endurance; 4) rough, rude or _boisterous_; and 5) rich and full-bodied". Definitions 1 and 4 overlap directly with robustious, even to the point of using the same words without any modifiers or inferences of fuller meaning/usage. That robust has 3 other meanings relating to strength, and not just boisterousness or vigorousness, does not make robustious "robust-lite", since the "lite" words embrace all the meanings of the original adjective, and not just selected meanings, and there is nothing to suggest that "robustious" is in the style of being "robust" to make it truly "robust-lite" consistent with other adjectival pairs. Which isn't to say that "robustious" can't exist as a word, but one must be particularly careful to the allegedly interchangeable use of such related words. To the extent that DD can provide any examples of the use of this "word", I assert that O. Henry wrote at a period of time where it was stylish to make up words to smack readers in the face with their misuse (or perhaps he really meant that the voice was something less than robust but trying to sound robust--cute, and perhaps the sole correct usage of the word), and Stanley Kauffman should be chastised for his continued flagrant attempts to perpetuate this non-word in an inappropriate way. All that said, given the description of the sprechtstimme contemplated in Moses und Aron it is very likely that the bass singing Moses and Aron will hardly sound any more robustious in his roles than any of the chanting choir or wailing soloists.

Ok, time to kill some robustious wasps that are invading my front door...

Tenet v. Doctrine v. Dogma

Tenet being the wotd, it raised my interest in the comparison between doctrine and dogma, like I needed an excuse to discuss a word...

Doctrine comes from the Latin "doctrina" for "teaching", and still retains that meaning of a principle, position or policy that is taught (see indoctrinate). Dogma comes from Greek "dokein" for "to seem good, think" through Latin "dogmatos" for "that which one thinks is true". And tenet simply comes from the Latin "tenere" for "to hold", as in something (an idea or belief) which is held. Contextually, doctrine and dogma are used interchangeably, and all are listed as synonyms for each other, but, if we haven't already learned that by now, it bears repeating that there are no true synonyms.

So, I'll start with tenet which is a belief that one holds, and bears no relation to the truth of the belief or where one got the belief or what one does with the belief. Theoretically, you could hold a false tenet (a belief that has been disproved, but while one still clings too), since it is just a belief, and there is no implied requirement to impose a tenet on anyone else in any way. Dogma is a belief that may or may not be true, but one thinks it is true, still having no relation to how one got the belief or what one does with it. Perhaps this word has the greatest relation to faith, believing in an idea which cannot be demonstrably proven or disproven, but which is embraced as true, regardless, and therefore, dogmas are more abstract. This may also explain why dogma is most frequently associated with the church, and particularly, the Catholic church. Doctrine, then, is a belief that is taught, again, with no relation to the truth of the belief. We hope it is true, and perhaps by teaching it, we make it true because we have spread the knowledge far and wide, but the real distinction of this word is that it is something that is intended to be communicated to another for them to accept. Yes, conversion is an issue in religion, but not through dogma. It would be church doctrine to baptise all heathens, but the dogma would be to accept God. The heathen, so converted, may then choose to accept the dogma as a personal tenet in their daily life. Now, take this out of the religious context, and we have, it is the corporate doctrine to recruit the best and the brightest to solve the problems of the humanity, but the dogma would be to accept the capitalism, and Human Resources hopes that each employee embraces the tenet of "the good of the company" over "the good of the individual". Or, politicians push new doctrines in the form of proposed legislation, but the dogma of the country is democracy for all, while some taxpayers and constituents hold contrary tenets of the benefits of small versus large government. Ok, well, I think you get the point.

Now, do these words get misused? You bet! Dogma, still carrying that religious overtone, gets associated almost entirely with the religious sphere of influence, as does tenet, without distinction, while doctrine gets the non-religious. Which makes using dogma in a non-religious context tending to elevate the subject to religious fanatacism (tenet not as much, but still), and using doctrine in a religious sense tending to diminish the religious importance. However, like expiate v. atone, I prefer to emphasize the religious connotation in furtherance of the sarcasm, so dogma it is for me in casual conversation, and I'll stick to the absolute distinction for my oral and written advocacy in the formal settings. And tenet is still, just tenet, but it did start this particular discussion.

Errant; Arrant

Well, this is an interesting comparison, not because these words are related, but because they could be mispronounced and therefore, heard interchangeably, although I will start by saying that errant is the word most commonly used, heard and understood, while arrant is more obscure, and may remain that way in the shadow of errant.

So, errant is quite easy, deriving from the past participle for the Latin "iterare" for "to journey", but has a confused etymology from the Latin "errare" for "to wander", which the French adopted for "to travel". I suppose a journey without a destination would merely be wandering, so these are not unjustifiably related, although it does presuppose that the journey is without a destination. Perhaps that a distinction between journey and trip - whether the end is predetermined - but that's a comparison for another day. Therefore, the etymology of errant may be errant itself. His errant writing style made it impossible for the judge to follow his argument. Despite the party being only 6 blocks due south of the interstate exit, her errant driving ensured that she was late. The errant witness was delayed by poor directions. All errant ideas not related to study are driven from students while preparing for final exams. Words with people, things and abstractions. There is also a latent meaning of "mistake" and "wrong", with the implied meaning of guilt, perhaps from the intolerance of people who wander. His errant activities off campus earned him a suspension from college for public indecency. Parents should take care to ensure that their children do not engage in errant behavior. Therefore, we should be aware when describing the activities of people that the context is clear whether mere wandering alone is intended or if there is to be a condemnation about the activity as being outside what is expected or prescribed by society.

Now, arrant has the same etymological roots as errant for wandering (having arguably come from a variant spelling - who says spelling doesn't count?), but couldn't be any further from the prior word. The idea that arrant could describe thorough, complete or notorious, clearly now, the condemnation aspect has taken over to an extreme. She was an arrant fool for investing in the pyramid scheme. Although fool was sufficient, and utter would have been an acceptable modifier, if one were actually necessary, with clearer meaning. He was an arrant snob, disdaining the company of those whom he perceived were his social inferiors. Again, snob is enough. His arrant cowardice prohibited him from seeing even the most tame of horror movies. Just trying to use this word now, it feels as if you would toss the word in with the denigrating term as just a sotto voce throw away. "Arrant idiot," she exclaimed upon learning that he had filed yet another motion for summary judgment after losing the first. So, the word only works in the perjorative sense, as some degree of augmentation on the existing perjorative being applied to someone (fool, snob, cowardice). Personally, I don't have much use for arrant. Because of its aural and literal connection with errant, and its meaning of thorough and notorious, it doesn't lend any additional meaning when used correctly, and any attempted use in sarcasm (arrant politician, arrant leader, arrant bravado) only sounds like errant, or has no effect since the listener wouldn't understand the nuance of the insinuation. Plus, I've got other words to resurrect and bring into common parlance than to work at arrant, although "arrant idiot" has some merit, maybe solely as a catchphrase to describe Plaintiff's counsel!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Jocular; Undulant

Recent DD wotds have been less than inspiring because the words themselves have no interesting evolution from their etymology.

Jocular derives from a diminutive of "iocus" for joke (remember, there is no "j" in Latin), and gives a straight line to the usage "characterized by joking". A fitting word for April Fools Day, but there was no jocularity today. Just business as usual--singing, more singing, and judging moot court. Oral argument before the Supreme Court is no place to be jocular. While courts appreciate humor and the occasional wit, jocularity is frowned upon as too casual. His jocular attitude in class of making wisecracks often had him sent to the principal's office. And it only applies to people since people are really the only ones who can make a joke. The chimpanzee could only mimic a jocular demeanor, which was in fact, really only juvenile. A robot can only be programmed to respond in a jocular manner. But it is inherent in the word that jocular has creativity, so other mammals and certainly tangibles and abstracts are not jocular. A jocular wind would actually be "playful" at best. A jocular essay might work, but as discussed in past words, only because the thing is so closely associated with the actions of people. As opposed to a jocular bookcase, which might only exist in Lewis Carroll's imagination as warped and barely functional for it's intended purpose, although I'd say this would better describe whimsical or perhaps, dysfunctional or pointless.

Undulant on the other hand comes from the Latin diminutive "undula" for wave, again straight to resembling waves in form, motion or occurrence. So, we can discuss the height, depth and period of a wave. Ironically, undulating waves is practically redundant, but unfortunately, all too commonly used. The hills created an undulant landscape. The equation represented a simple undulating sine curve. A bit pedantic and geeky/poetic, but accurate. Her head undulated while she sang, demonstrating her poor technique and lack of self control. His undulant voice lulled the baby to sleep. Possibly. Her country twang had a pronounced undulant quality. His undulant moods betrayed his bipolar disorder? Yes. Even after several years, she was still struck with undulant bouts of inconsolable grief mourning the death of her father. Yes, absolutely, and quite evocative, although I might take it a step further with drowning bouts or floods or for the really bad one, tsunamis. So, yes, it works for people, their activities, tangibles and abstractions. Enjoy!