Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sempiternal v. Eternal

Well, this comparison came up quite sporadically from a book I wasn't reading, but got dragged into discussing notwithstanding. Apparently, the word sempiternal required just slightly less than forever to'll get the joke later.

Sempiternal comes from the Latin contraction of semperaeternus for "semper" meaning "always" and "aeternus" for "eternal" from "aeviternus" meaning "of great age". This might seem redundant on first blush. Of course the immediate question is what could be less than eternal that it would require a modifier of always, and then if sempiternal means always eternal, what does mere eternal mean? Eternal, like all the crazy connotations, evolved in the Middle Ages, c. 1350. Sempiternal came about 100 years later, c. 1450. If the connotations are to be believed, sempiternal refers to an enduring thing which came from a known beginning, while eternal refers to something which had neither a beginning nor an end. But the definition of sempiternal is hazy, at best, and doesn't make the distinction as clearly as the definition of eternal implies. Moreover, sempiternal notes that the definition if "literary", as if to imply that only if you are a published writer/author could you possibly use this word. Perhaps the real intention was only if you were a published writer/author would you possibly use this word...

I have to confess that, as of late, my tolerance for idiotic and obtuse etymological evolutions has become strained. And OED is just so heavy and awkward. But, OED confirms that sempiternal is to "endure without end", implying that it had a beginning, and eternal is "infinite in past and future duration". Pretty clear now, although still potentially useless.

Diamonds are not forever; they are merely sempiternal. Yeah, that's romantic. Many arguments by Plaintiff's counsel seem sempiternal. There are rules requiring cases be disposed of within a prescribed period so they do not take on the appearance of sempiternality. A postings to the internet automatically becomes sempiternal. Ok, you get the picture. Meanwhile, very simply, a concept that has no known beginning as well as no known end would be eternal. Love is eternal, even if the diamond isn't. Arguably, murder is sempiternal from Cain and Abel, but revenge according to the ancient Greeks was eternal. And of course, there is the eternal line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. yes, that one was sarcastic. But while the difference is definable and clear, use sempiternal in causal, non-literary circles, and you will draw more blank stares than using animadversion. I'll save an analysis of "forever" for later to see if that word may be used as a catch all.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


After all that antiquare/antiquate nonsense, I just needed a simple happy word: Egregious.

Egregious derives from Latin "ex" and "grege" for literally "out of the flock", or poetically, "rising above the flock" or pre-eminent, outstanding. Of course that has good overtones, but a mere swing of the pendulum and some time later during the Middle Ages (of course!) we get the exact opposite meaning. That standing out is a bad thing, a glaring or conspicuous in its error. Archaically, it still retains the original meaning of exceptional, but no one would believe that usage as anything more than irony, so the the negative connotation it is.

Failure to use the subjunctive tense is no longer the egregious grammatical error that it once was, although it should be. While sight-reading the new piece, she mispronounced all the Latin, breathed in the middle of words, and didn't observe the subito piano marking in time to refrain from being the unintended soloist, evidencing her egregious musicianship. Never me! Plaintiff's counsel's arguments contained egregious misstatements of the law. Too easy. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Antiquarian v. Antiquated

I've always liked the word antiquated, largely because I am not chattel, but I am not infrequently reminded of those old laws, and antiquarian reminded me of that.

Antiquarian derives from the Latin "anti" for "before" and pre-Indo-European "-okw" for "appearance". Of course, during Medieval times, it started taking on other forms and meanings. First, the Latin derivative "antiquus" came to mean "former, ancient", then antiquity meaning "olden times", then c. 1550, "antiquarius" for "a student of the past" (antiquary in modern usage). And finally, antiquarian for "pertaining to antiquaries or their studies". It should be noted that antiquities was just the adjectival form of "old", but has come to mean from the period of time before the Middle Ages (a.k.a. really old). Meanwhile on a separate etymological vein, and just for sake of completeness, c. 1700, antiquated sprang into existence for "obsolete". Somehow the idea of old evolved into simply outdated. Another 100 years later, and we have antique proper, for an old and collectible thing, although that's not necessarily outdated (e.g. furniture and china). It isn't until the early 1920s that we get antique as a verb for "to give an antique appearance to" when we return to the worn out concept, an adjective to describe something that is old and collectible, and finally, another verb for the activity of collecting these old collectibles. It's all so confusing, but basically there are two threads: antiquarian and all the "r" derivatives for really old and antiquated and all the "t" derivatives for outdated.

Ok, so I guess I'm not as enamored of antiquarian as I am of antiquated. It's so easy to say that Plaintiff's counsel's calling me "little lady" was an antiquated sentiment from a chauvinist era. Blue light laws prohibiting coin operated laundry on Sundays are similarly antiquated. But there are few examples of antiquarian music. Hmm. that's not quite right, or at least, it shouldn't be. Antiquarian relates to those who study the past or their study of the past, not the past itself. An early musicologist is an antiquarian pendant. Oh yeah, that's clear, as well as a double entendre. Who would even say such a thing? And I know some early musicologists! The Magna Carta is technically not old enough to be of antiquarian interest. ugh. It's correct, but dumb. Can I just give up on this word, and condemn it as esoterically useless. Why does DD continue to do this? Antiquated has so much more possibility. Perhaps antiquarian is an antiquated word. I'm going to treat it as such.

Evince v. Evidence

As part of my backlog of words, evince roused the lawyer in me today.

Evince comes from the Latin "e" meaning "out of, from, or thoroughly" and "vincere" meaning "to conquer". And somehow "to conquer thoroughly" now means "to show clearly". More trial by combat. Compare evidence which comes from the Latin "e" and "videre" meaning "to see". So in this instance, "to see thoroughly" means "to show clearly". This is just the blind leading the blind. Amazing how two completely different etymologicial roots can come to the same alleged usage. Well, almost. Say it with me: there are no true synonyms.

Ok, so what is the difference. Since evince comes from to conquer, it is a personal activity, therefore, the things shown are personal traits or qualities, not impersonal facts. And while it expresses the traits and qualities of humans, it may expand to animals or inanimate objects as these may exemplify human traits or qualities. The miscreant youths evince their low aspirations by loitering in the mall. I evince sympathy with my eyes alone. I evince cold. No. I evince that I am cold. Yes. As a result of his last favorable jury verdict, Plaintiff's counsel evinces haughtiness. My cat evinces her distaste for her food by ignoring it. Yes, because she has such personality. Lions evinces their superiority in the jungle with a loud roar. Yes, because we ascribe human qualities to "the king of the jungle". My stereo evinces life-like sound. Probably as it mirrors human sound, but the better word would probably be evoke. Meanwhile, evidence demonstrates a fact, but is employed solely from the non-human perspective. My cat evidences that she is hungry by sitting at her bowl and yowling. Yes. He evidences that he is annoyed by scowling. No. The bills in the box evidences that the mailman delivered the mail today. Yes, although as an issue of circumstantial evidence, the better word is indicates. Plaintiff's counsel's haughtiness evidences his last favorable jury verdict. Yes, but it it's not likely that he won against me.

The trouble with this pair is that evince has been roughly subsumed by other words that don't sound like evidence, and evidence is rarely used as a verb, since when evidence is used, even as a noun, is suggests a legal meaning. Therefore, evidence supplants evince, perhaps as evince may be a malapropism for evidence, and everyone just uses it as a noun to make things clear. The evidence will show that my cat is hungry, that I was was cold, and that Plaintiff's counsel is haughty.

Friday, September 21, 2007


As long as I'm in a French mood, I'll delve into another French word...

First of all, roue, as DD spells it, is misspelled. Roué has an accent. Otherwise, you wouldn't pronounce the "e". It would just be roue (pronounced roo), which rhymes with roux, which is the white sauce.

Now, etymologically, roué derives from the Latin "rota" for a wheel, and evolved from the past participle of the French "rouer" for "to break upon a wheel". The insinuation is that the individual is so sinful as to require the punishment of being broken upon the wheel, a throwback to a torture predominantly of the Middle Ages (the Catherine Wheel) designed for execution. As I continue to analyze the etymologies and uses of words, and I am more and more intrigued by the sharp shift in the evolution and derivation of words which occurred between 900 and 1600. I'll have to explore that more, and augment my postings with my findings. So the crimes of a man who was to be broken on the wheel were so morally repugnant that he was not eligible to be execute by the gallows, normally reserved for common crimes like theft. But now we just think of the roué as someone who is devoted to sensual pleasure, which may or may not have been actionable on the wheel in 1450. Whether our tolerance for these crimes has abated, or whether our connotation of its has evolved, it seems that the meaning is debauchery, and not a capital crime, like leading a riot or a gang of brigands.

An admitted roué, he drank all the wine in the cellars and cleaned out the stores in less than a week. Too easy. Oscar Wilde wrote of the prototypical roué in An Ideal Husband. Also too easy. Plaintiff's counsel wined and dined his soon to be divorced client and cleaned out her bank account in the process as only a roué could. Still too easy. As I try to formulate these sentences, I am struck with the overwhelming feeling that roué and effete belong in the same sentence. A gluttonous roué at Thanksgiving and Christmas, he lay on the couch, effete from trytophan overdose and watching football. Yes, I note all my roué are men, but the definition was "a man devoted to a life of sensual pleasure." A woman knows better!


Having recently returned from Paris, I remember passing by an atelier or two in the 1er Arrondissement. It's not quite the same thing there...

Atelier comes from the Latin "assula", a chip or splinter, as a diminuitive of "assis" for a board. Through a series of variant Latin spellings, we add a "t" and end up with "astulla", which through Old French becomes "astelier", for a carpenter's shop. The loss of the "s" now does not change that it is still a woodshop, and not just the commonly known workshop. In Paris, the atelier is where they make and repair furniture. Elsewhere in the world, even when talking about France, it is a place for work of the hands (painting, pottery, jewelry).

Ah well, as a purist, you know where my tendencies lie. My usage will only be for the carpenter's shop, but it's hard to find an atelier in the Yellow Pages, and if I ever want a place for my budding dress-making business, I'll just have to rent a studio.


Ah, yes, this is a great word, not used enough.

Intrepid comes from the Latin "in" for "not" and "trepidus" for "anxious or disturbed", and thus meaning "calm", but now means "bold or fearless". I love it when the pendulum swing of the "not" gets wildly distorted 180 degrees, rather than merely coming to rest at equilibrium. Calm as in not anxious or disturbed could simply mean inactive or at rest, and not requiring the action inherent in bold or fearless. Ah well, as Newton's First Law states, objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and this definition's evolution was well in motion. Lord only where it will end up, but if the pendulum keeps swinging, it may end up at anxious or disturbed again...

Intrepid climbers of Mount Everest may also be called stupid or foolhardy. Tune in next week to see how our intrepid heroes escape from the villain's obvious trap. Despite the law being against his client, Plaintiff's counsel presented his argument before the Court with intrepid aplomb. It is an intrepid woman who knows when to confront her significant other when he treats her like chattel despite her significant contribution to his fledging business. 'nuff said.


Yes, this is another of my favorite words. Don't ask.

Turpitude comes from the Latin "turpis" for "base or vile" and "tude", the suffix which makes the adjective into a participle. And that makes this word as clear as mud. We all have a general understanding of what base and vile mean, but now its important to know what these words really mean. So, for the meta level we have vile, which comes from the Latin "vilis" for "of little worth, base or cheap" but which has come to mean things associated with the poor of the Dark Ages (wretched, filthy, repulsive, etc.) and base, which comes from the Latin "basus" for physically low or short, and which has come to have a similar connotation as with those of low birth (not refined, worthless, morally low). Ok, so back to turpitude. While base and vile etymologically have no origin in depravity, the ongoing association with the individual who were literally base or vile tended to create that connotation and it stuck, not just to base and vile, but by extension to turpitude. The irony is that as now the moral depravity is implied, turpitude is usually paired with moral in an almost redundant fashion. Moral turpitude, as if there is another kind of depravity. Could we really fathom political turpitude? isn't that really moral/ethical anyway. economic turpitude? that just sounds implausible. But ultimately, this is just another connotative association from something of little worth to people without money to what people without money may be forced to do by society a millenium ago to just that conduct generally and finally to a moral issue. Naturally.

As usual, turpitude applies to people and the activities of people almost exclusively. It's kinda hard for my cat to engage in an immoral act, but I suppose it is possible. Let's not go there either. So, the Pennsylvania school authorities maintained the right to fire a teacher for moral turpitude. This was how it actually expressed its right, amusingly for an educational system using the redundancy, and it is still just as vague now as it was then. Adultery, while still on the books as an offense, is no longer actionable for divorce as an independent cause, and therefore, socially, may no longer be considered turpitude. True, although esoteric. Miscreant youths loitering in the mall for shops to close in order to mug the last customers engage in a unique form of turpitude. It is turpitude, however, to misuse a word? Depend of how egregious the misuse. Misusing well and good? probably. Failing to use the subjunctive tense? definitely!


Since I have a backlog of over 100 words from DD, I can at least chose my favorite words for my return posts. Fungible is another of those.

Fungible comes from the the Latin "fungi" and "vice" for "to perform" "in the place of". Therefore, fungible means "freely exchangeable for or replaceable by another of like nature or kind" or "interchangeable". Pretty straightforward. Of course, the original root of "to perform" likely meant that it was intended to apply to people (servants, foot soldiers) but now it applies to any asset (commodities, money) and in deference to not alienating people (and the fact that the feudal system has largely been abolished), it is used almost exclusively with these tangibles.

While assembly line workers may be fungible, only an unfeeling corporate behemoth would refer to them as faceless, impersonal assets for fear of a union strike or a mass exodus of their labor force. Comingling client assets may make money fungible, but it does not erase their paper trail. Livestock are a fungible good for slaughter, but not for breeding. yes, although its dull and very clinical. I'll stick with financial instruments (stocks, bonds), money (duh--did you really expect to get that specific $20 that you deposited 5 years ago?) and people (for the sarcastic element). Often during my college education I felt that the University treated its students as no more than fungible--just like every other sucker from whom it could gouge exorbitant tuition while providing the bare minimum of services and herding us from class to class. Your mileage may vary.

Recreant v. Miscreant

Recreant was a recent DD wotd of which, quite honestly, I had never heard. Probably would have thought it was a derogatory way of describing someone with too many weekend pursuits (he's a real recreant of tennis, golf and pool), but that's clearly not right. Of course, this immediately conjures miscreant in my mind as a pair ripe for comparison. Miscreant is a great word, and a personal favorite of mine to describe some teenagers or those obnoxious 'tweens who lack direction.

Recreant comes from Latin "credere" for "to believe" through the French past participle of "recroire" meaning to "yield in a trial by combat" or more figuratively, yielding the cause. Ok, so I may find this an unusual etymological evolution, so I'll start with the prefix. "Re" usually means again, but it has another limited usage meaning "back", as in to take back, which would make more sense in this context as to "take back a belief". Unfortunately, that only gets us part way to its current meaning of "cowardly" or "disloyal", but if knights originally took oaths of duty and loyalty to defend and honor the beliefs of the king and, by extension in Medieval times, the church, to yield those beliefs was cowardly and disloyal, as well as obviously "unfaithful". Whew. Compare this to miscreant, which has the same Latin root, but with the prefix "mis", which means "wrong". Therefore, miscreant means one who has a wrong belief, compared to recreant as one who has given up a correct belief. Now, just to compound matters, over time, miscreant has taken on meanings of vicious and depraved, and not just heretic and infidel, which reference the boundaries of having a wrong belief system, likely as an extension of the common thought of what people were like if they didn't have the proper and accepted belief system. Meanwhile, recreant has some overtones of being a traitor, implying that by abandoning the cause, you have gone to the other side, which is not a logical extension (you could abstain). It is a fine line between retreat and crossing over, but what we see is that in Medieval times through the Renaissance, any waiver of faith was as good as sinning. Recreant, miscreant, you were still damned and outside of society.

Now for the fun part--application. Pretty clearly, both of these words apply to people and the activities of people. Miscreant youth loiter in the mall waiting for stores to close so they can mug the last customer. Recreant youth engage in a night of binge drinking and then cheat on a test the next day, despite the honor code, just to maintain their 4.0 averages. He's a real miscreant for cheating on his wife, but a recreant for walking away from the argument. Yes to the first, maybe to the second. However, since both miscreant and recreant have "belief" in their origins, this requires sentience and intent to abandon or reject the belief. Therefore, these words cannot apply to other animates, or tangibles or intangibles, except, as always, to the extent that we try to give them such cognitive powers. The miscreant dog may urinate on the carpet, but it was merely a biological function, and not a deliberate act to annoy me. The miscreant cat which defecated in my shoe because I didn't clean the litter box...that's another story. Recreant is harder to use since it requires double the cognitive intent--the first to engage in the act and the second to withdraw from it. The dog was initially anxious for his morning walk but immediately became recreant upon realizing the intense rain. This just sounds stupid. The proper word is reluctant, or possibly reticent, or even just unwilling. I think the extra level of cognitive process of recreant restricts it from usages, no matter how sarcastic, beyond people. The recreant Plaintiff's counsel asked the Court to withdraw as attorney of record for his client when he learned that his client was lying to him. Since nearly all plaintiffs lie to their attorney about something relating to their case (how the accident really occurred, how much pain they really have...), to suddenly be put off by the lie is akin to yielding the cause, and litigation is the current form of trial by combat, so this works quite well. The miscreant Plaintiff's attorney would steal the retainer and do no work. Miscreant is just too easy to use. All you have to do is think of amoral activities or people. Recreant requires more nuance of someone who has lost faith in the cause. Dropping out of high school from teenage pregnancy is recreant? Possibly, although adversity is not the condition for yielding. Dropping out of high school because your senior advisor said you won't amount to anything. That's a better and more accurate usage. Education is supposed to help you aspire to better goals, so accepting the opinion that you can't make any of those goals is yielding the cause of education. Ok, perhaps a little to esoteric, but you get the picture. So, let us not be recreant in our usage of the English language that these words may be used in a miscreant fashion.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Being a language purist, nothing bothers me more than a word which has been bastardized into a cute marketing expression. So, although I don't do phrases, a request has been made for "grow" based on "to grow one's business".

Well, this is new to me. Grow is one of those base words from Medieval English "growen" from Old Norse "groa", and it has always meant "to grow". No derivations, no deviations, no distractions. Just grow. Now, of course, there are over a dozen variant definitions of the use of the word grow, but I'm going to focus on the misuse I stated above. And how does this differ from my prior suggestions to use words out of context? Because grow was originally an intransitive verb requiring helping verbs (He has been growing a rate of 1" each month; our crops have been growing well now that we have installed the new irrigation system), and only in the 1800s was it expanded to include living things directly (We grow grapes and roses; violets grow best with incandescent lighting), but the application to nonliving things was a sound byte apparently coined by President Bill Clinton in 1992 in his remarks to the People of East Lansing ("...that we not only could, but we had to grow the economy and improve the environment.). And the phrase took off, unfortunately. I suppose it's not such a bad misuse if you truly believe a business is a living organism, or analogous to one, which it not a big stretch. But this misuse was from "growing the economy" subsequently extended to "growing a business". Now, I am not a farmer, but I don't view the practice of planting, nurturing, pruning, weeding, harvesting, and selling of produce to be the equivalent process of trying to improve the economy, which is more like trying to make a path through a Brazilian rain forest with a butter knife. Therefore, you may, potentially, grow an idea to solve the deficit, as the idea may be germinated and nurtured, etc., but you cannot grow the economy all by itself--the economy was not a developed idea, but an analysis of an existing trading system, and you certainly cannot grow the deficit down (that just defies basic agriculture, physics, and common sense).

So, while I don't like "grow your business", as long as it can still be reasonably compared to farmer's crops, it is a not unreasonable extension. A small business owner may grow his business, but Microsoft may be beyond that analogy. You will note the legal caveats that I have included. I could never use this expression. My expansion of usage is only for sarcastic effect. There was no sarcasm in the 1992 speech or any other misuse since then. President Clinton meant it seriously (I hope), and one can only hope that he hired better speech writers since then. Meanwhile, although the expression is here to stay (I have heard it used in Fedex commercials), we can do our part to try to minimize its impact. For my part, when I hear such misusages, I try to rearrange their sentence/sentiment in my immediate response to properly use all the words. "I've got some great ideas to grow my legal practice," says the Plaintiff's attorney. "And what are your ideas to make your business grow?" I reply, with just a hint of irritation. After all, I don't like talking to stupid Plaintiff's attorneys generally, and worse when they misuse the English language they rely on for their livelihood. Let's not grow the English language this way. Yeah, that really does just sound wrong. Let's allow the English language to grow only in reasonable and proper ways. Better.


Well, this is certainly an unusual word, and one that I had never heard, so a rousing thank you to the individual who precipitated my return with this request.

Lauwine, accordingly to OED, apparently derives from the German "lau" for mild or tepid, from the actual German word lawine, which quite simply, means an avalanche. But lawine derives more realistically from the Latin "labina" for "sliding, chutes" from "labi" for "to slide". The derivative spelling was only in favor in English in the 1800s with its advent in Byron's poem, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, and shares the same "lau" with the Sweizerdeutsch ("laui", "lauene", and "lauine"), which is more likely the source of the extra "u", rather than some forced meaning with "tepid".

As for use of the word, I think your audience would be more perplexed and put off by a literal use of lauwine ("let's see if this dynamite will trigger a lauwine"), and as a warning, it would be just about useless (Run! the lauwine is coming!) Now, for connotive usage, I love the word "flood", but I could give "lauwine" a try for some variety, after all, it is just another state of water. Instead of a flood of applications for the prestigious internship, one could reference a lauwine of applications. From context, the listener should get it, although I would still imagine with a perplexed look. Are you trying to sound pretentious? Probably. Why not. It's lauwine! What else are you going to do with this word besides relegate it to the archives? Good luck, and don't let all those old words cover you in a lauwine.