Saturday, October 20, 2007


Another of my favorites that rarely gets used.

Abscond derives from the Latin "ab" for "away", "con" for "with or together" or alternately, "completely", and "dere" for "to put or place". From there, it took form as the Latin "abscondere" for "to conceal". And finally c. 1605, abscond emerged for "to depart in a sudden or secret manner" particularly so as to avoid capture. This is beginning to feel like a steeple chase with these hurdles. So, "to put away completely" becomes "to conceal". Ok, perhaps not such a great leap. But from to innocently "put away" to the neutral or borderline secretive, we get the nefarious overtones to stealing and withdrawing with the booty. Something that needs to be kept hidden. But of course, because the word did not originate in the Middle Ages, at least the meaning is linear to the tone of the evolution.

So, why do I like this word so much? No, I am not a cleptomaniac. I like to use it completely for the sarcastic value. I will not infrequently abscond with Plaintiff's counsel's brief before my boss "loses" is in the paperwork on his desk. Or I will abscond with the DVD that I loaned to my friend when I asked her if she done with it since I saw her using it as a coaster. Of course, there is nothing illegal or even remotely wrong with what I am doing, but the idea that I need to "steal" the brief or the DVD before worse things happen to these things, and withdraw before I am caught is the real merit of the word and its humor value. I probably would even tell my boss that I am "absconding" with the document--so he'll know where to find it later--which of course, defeats the implied usage of the word, but it still sounds funny.

As for correct usage, which is not nearly so much fun... She should have absconded with her grandmother's necklace before it became part of the estate and was given to her sister. On New Year's Eve, the employees frequently absconded from the store with a bottle of good cheer. People who fail to abscond with their unpaid goods are prosecuted for shoplifting. Since it derives from to put an object away, abscond must be used with a tangible. You can't really abscond with an idea. That's stealing or plagarism or just plain theft. Plaintiff's counsel absconded my theory of the case for his closing? Well, that sounds stupid for several reasons, not the least of which is that we're on opposite sides of the case, so my theory could never help him. She absconded the tractor from the farm. No. Abscond is an intransitive verb, so it doesn't take a direct object. She absconded from the gang my moving to Utah. Maybe. She absconded from the farm with the tractor. Better, although not sure how secretly you can depart with a tractor, but you get the idea. The word requires surreptitious behavior to leave and usually taking something which is the basis for the need to leave. The inside man on the bank job absconded with the money. Yes. Now, how often do you have need to use this word? Hopefully not that often, which is why I so seldom hear it, but it has so much possibility, I'll hope it can get more humorous use.

No comments: