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.


cara said...

Why do I associate "circumspect" with being evasive or taciturn in response to a question? That is a possible cautious approach, but vaguely the opposite of looking around everything thoroughly, in that you're not letting anyone else inspect whatever the matter is. So if this is a correct usage and not another malapropism, it's rather ironic. My point being, in the usage known to me, circumspect has lost the meaning of considering the whole problem, and merely retained the aspect of caution.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Cara, although it seems to me the negative 'evasive' aspect of the word is a much more modern usage. If I were reading a 19th century novel, I would assume the word was used without any bad intent, while if I read in the NY Times that the 'official was circumspect in his response' I would take that to mean the journalist felt he or she was lying but didn't want to come out and say it.

Lauren said...

While I appreciate both your comments, I think this negative implication derives from the literal aspect of "looking around" as one might look around while grasping for an answer (let alone the right answer), and therefore, we end up with usages which imply that one knows the information which is being requested, but is "looking around" for something else to say so as not to give this information. This gives the impression of evasiveness. I will reiterate, however, the original intended usage was prudential and cautious, not sinister.