Thursday, November 22, 2007


Having just finished a major weeding project in anticipation of winter, this word seemed especially appropriate.

Extirpate comes from the Latin "ex" for "without" and "stirp" for "stem". I'll take a brief moment to discuss the suffix "ate", which originally in Latin was used with adjectives (making a verb into an adjective), but in English, "ate" is used to make other forms of words into verbs. Go figure. Must have occurred in the Dark Ages when everything seemed to be backward. So, literally, the word means "to make or cause to be without a stem", as something is pulled out by the root.

So, back to my weeding project... Extirpating weeds from a brick walk nearly impossible, so I prefer to burn the weed to the root. When you see a grey hair, do you extirpate it, or leave it be? Ok, while that's correct, it just sounds too funny. It's up there with extirpating the unwanted hair in your ear or between your eye brows. Waxing is just a fancy form of extirpation (and perhaps exfoliation as a side benefit). Anything that can be pulled out by the root. Weeds. Check. Hair. Check. It's easier to apply with things that have physical roots, but it could be just as easily extended to the intangible. Can we extirpate the root of all evil? Grammatically, yes. Theoretically, no. Now, could Plaintiff's counsel extirpate the lies his client tells him? Again, grammatically, yes. Theoretically, no.

Let us work to extirpate poor word usage wherever possible.


Finally! A word from DD that I couldn't resist! So, in honor of Thanksgiving, we have:

Deipnosophist. Well, clearly, this word comes from the Greek "deipnon" for "meal" and "sophos" for "clever or wise". A "sophiste" then was a clever or wise man, who in ancient Greece was paid to give instruction. The term was derogatory as their arguments we often specious. This contextual meaning was retained in the idea that a deipnosophist was good at table talk, which carries with it some connotation of worthlesness or insignificance. The word was first used c. 200 AD as a title of a work by Athanaios, a Greek rhetorician and grammarian, Deipnosophiste, as it presented a first person account of a banquet and the conversation which occurred on a range of subjects from the dishes to literary issues to points of grammar and the esoteric. Then, apparently, the word wasn't used again until c. 1650 (at least it was past the Dark Ages!), as one who is skilled in the affairs of a kitchen, where the meal occurred, to one who adept at table talk, where the meal really occurs, since there is no further presumption that the meal is eaten in the kitchen.

Ok, so once we understand the evolution of the word, and that it derives from a partially derogatory root, usage is fairly straightforward. Her husband was a brilliant deipnosophist, able to engage in polite chit chat at any business lunch. Hopefully, I will not be accused of being merely a deipnosophist at the holiday feast, but remembered for something useful I contributed to the discussion. I will probably never have occasion to determine if Plaintiff's counsel could have been a deipnosophist, since I find his company barely tolerable just in court.

May you all be better than a deipnosophist today--Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Regardless v. Irrespective; Regard v. Respect

This one is by request, but it does intrigue me, and no, I will not be attempting to define "irregardless".

In fact, this comparison is really regard v. respect, since both words contain modifiers for the negative ("ir" and "less"). Regard has a complicated etymology. Regard originally derives from Indo-Europen "wer", through Middle English "warde" (and its variant spellings) through German "warten" to Old French "garder" for "to watch". Regard, then, literally means "to watch again", however, figuratively, it means "to pay attention to" as it derives from to the idea of watching again and again being that you don't stop watching, or paying attention. The word evolved into "to think highly of and/or with a particular feeling" as if when you are truly paying attention it is because you would think highly of the person or have a particular feeling that would inspire the attention. Therefore, regardless naturally means inattentive or unmindful.

In contrast, respect comes from the Latin "specere" for "to look", and thus, respect means "to look at or consider again" and by extension, finally, to mean "deference". Therefore, irrespective means without a second look or thought.

So, the real issue is given the closeness of the etymologies, how does respect differ from regard? Regard has its origin from watching with a purpose, hence the evolution through guarding and paying attention and imbuing the watching with a higher sense of worth, while respect is just looking with no purpose, and then as a result of what you see, paying closer attention and giving the look higher worth. The intent of the initial observation is different, leading to a different purpose for observing, although quite probably leading to the same type of ultimate observation. However, there is a separate distinction through the implied usage. Regard looks at the physical characteristics, again, the reason for guarding or watching. Respect looks at a quality of a person, the reason for giving a second look. Now, a quality of a person may be a physical characteristic (a pretty smile, a scar), but it was not the reason for having to watch the person. Therefore, we give regard to pedestrians at a crosswalk, and we give respect to the police car stopped on the side of the road. The pedestrians are a group of people who need protection against traffic and therefore give continual watching to, while we have no particular interest in the police car except for what the officer may subsequently decide to do which could affect us, therefore, we pay more attention until its relevance is moot. We regard beauty as an asset, and at some point we hope that others will respect the person for more than pretty looks. To take some common and easy ones, we are told to respect our elders, implying that we would not give such notice on first glance, but we should look deeper to find something worthwhile and therefore, worthy of deference. We don't regard our elders. That just sounds odd (like a malapropism), unless they are feebleminded and need elder care. Then, it's appropriate.

When we return to regardless v. irrespective, however, these words are generally used on a meta-level to regard v. respect, as in the fact or quality of what should be regarded or respected. Regardless of the fact that it was physics exam, the student answered the essay questions with dissertations on economic philosophy. True story. Irrespective of his desire to maintain his 4.0 GPA in economics, he submitted the essay for the physic professor to grade. Regardless has the idea of ignoring something to which you should have paid attention, while irrespective is dismissing something to which you had no need to pay attention. Regardless of the weather, my friend and I go walking every morning (almost true, but not due to the weather). Irrespective of his 7 y.o. daughter's whining, he goes to work every day. Ok, that might be a little harsh. Depending on the parent, it could just as easily have read, regardless of his 7 y.o. daughter's whining, he goes to work every day. So, depending on the person and the societal norms of what we should "regard", and even just cautious politeness, regardless has a broader usage. Irrespective, then, is almost flippant, as well, the lawyer in me prefers "notwithstanding" as a more generic, and perhaps obscure substitute. Irrespective of the judge's counseling, Plaintiff's counsel proceeded to attack the witness's credibility on his extra-marital affair. Only Plaintiff's counsel would actually presume to defy a judge so blatantly. For the rest, it would be regardless of the judge's counseling, the attorney continued to zealously represent her client by cross-examining the witness on his extra-marital affair to attack his loss of consortium damages.

So, irrespective (or perhaps regardless, as you see fit) of what you think of my analysis, perhaps we should work to err more on the side of regardless.

Ed note: I started this comparison over a month ago, but it took some time to really process the subtle differences, and I couldn't extract myself to work on any other words until I finished it, hence the extreme delay. Again, thank you for your patience. Hopefully, other words will not create such obstacles...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Seep v. Percolate; Steep

I think someone has been drinking too much coffee, but by request we have seep and percolate, and I'll add steep for the tea drinkers out there.

Seep comes from the Dutch "sijpelen" for "to ooze". Then through the German "sifen" to Old English "sipian", until finally, c. 1500, "sipe" by way of a diatectic variant became seep. Still meaning to ooze, though. Whew. Meanwhile, percolate came solely from the Latin "per" meaning "through" and "colare" meaning "to filter" (from "colum" for a "sieve"). Now, both mean that some liquid passes through small openings, but seep has the liquid coming through on its own and at it own rate, while in percolate, the liquid is forced by something (usually thought of as heat). That's it. I will make one observation that percolate tends to have a connotation from certain usage that the liquid has to go through the porous material more than once, but the etymology and derivation only require that the liquid be forced. The number of times, even as few as once, is irrelevant. Now, steep, as a verb, has a questionable etymology from the Old Teutonic "staupjan" for the vessel storing liquor OR from the Danish "stope" or the Norwegian "stoypa" for "to steep" when used in reference to malting, although OED opines that these Scandanavian reconciliations have a basis in "cast down" relative to metals into molds. I suppose its not a great leap to derive that molten metal might have a tendency like other liquids to earn this definition, but steep is more akin to the process of diffusion as may be involved in fermentation. Regardless, steep, in contrast to seep and percolate, simply involves dunking or soaking in a liquid for the process of extracting impurities or flavor.

So, the usages are fairly straightforward. If I were to drink coffee, I would percolate water through the grounds, whereas since I usually drink tea, I just steep the teabag in nearly boiled water. If my cup is broken, either drink might seep onto the table. Ok, those are the obvious sentences. A hot bath does wonders to steep the tension from my shoulders. Possibly, although it would be more acceptable with something that could actually be leached from your system. A hot bath does wonders to steep toxins from my skin. After a long performance, sweat practically seeps from my body. Hmm. Perhaps overly graphic, and seep has the connotation of being a little thicker in proportion to the size of the porous material to account for the slow rate. Sweat isn't ever thick, and skin is really quite porous, so the better physical usage would be after a pricking my finger, blood seeps from the wound. However, sweat might percolate from my body in a sauna. The forced aspect has no relation to the size of the porous material; only that the liquid is coming out at a faster rate than normal. Now one might argue that in a sauna, the liquid is coming out at a rate commensurate with the temperature, and there is no "forcing", but why else does one go into the sauna if not to force sweat?

Now, this wouldn't be a regular post if I didn't try to expand the usage. So, these words all derive from liquids, so anything that could act like a liquid is also fair game. Mice seep from a hole in the wall or percolate through the walls? Maybe, but not likely. Animates (even a stream of animals) and tangibles are hard to analogize like liquids. But intangibles are fair game. While writing my opposition to Plaintiff's counsel's motion for summary judgment, a myriad of arguments and ideas percolated from my mind, and seeped onto the page. And then, after losing his ridiculous motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff's counsel steeped in his own humiliation and anger.

The problem is, though, that, aside from intangible usages, percolate has taken on a very specific identity with coffee, while seep and steep have broader usages more generally. Although technically correct that when I squeeze my teabag before removing it from my cup that I am percolating the tea, that just conjures vile tastes in my mind of mixing coffee and tea, and no self-respecting tea drinker would do that. Meanwhile, steep can be used to describe infusing flavors (the pineapple was steeped in vodka), and seep for anything that is leaking (milk is seeping from the carton).

Hopefully, you will find that your vocabulary is steeped with good words, which may percolate to others and seep into better usage.