Saturday, June 11, 2016

Pertinent v. Relevant

This particular comparison has bothered me for quite some time.  I actually began this post 7.5 years ago, and never completed it because the etymology and current usage of basically a required legal word (relevant) didn't match.  I don't know that it makes any more sense to me now, but here's what I have.

Pertinent comes from the Latin "per" meaning "through, by" and "tenire" for "to hold".  OED adds that the Latin "pertenere" means "to extend, stretch, tend (to), belong (to)".  By c. 1350, the Old French "partenir" for "to belong or have a connection to" emerged through the Middle English "pertenen" then to our current "to be applicable".  Of course, like all bad dictionary definitions, (née Doctor Dictionary) has defined pertinent as relevant, and even OED has a tertiary but current definition that "pertinent" is "pertaining to the matter at hand, relevant, to the point".

Meanwhile, relevant comes from the Latin "re" for "again" and "levare" for "to raise up" a derivative of "levis" for "light in weight", and is related to the word "relieve" meaning "to lessen the effect of something" as from physically and then metaphorically lifting the burden and "levity" for "lightness". So, how this came to have any meaning or relationship to either things or ideas is still a mystery. OED adds an interpretation of "relieve" of "to assist", and perhaps from there, we can grasp that something that is relevant is intended to assist the person and later, the reader/listener.  However, even OED defines "relevance" as "pertinent important to current issues", and "relevant" as "bearing upon, connected with, pertinent to the matter in hand" which only muddies the waters, and provides a specific legal meaning of "relevant" as "legally pertinent or sufficient".  At this, I throw my hands up and cry 'tautology'.

Back to OED.  Obsolete definitions of pertinent included "pertaining or belonging to as a possession, dependency or appendage, or as a part, constituent or function" and "appropriate, suitable in nature or character".  The former definitely derives from the "holding" of something physical, while the latter begins the slide into the intangible as we go from the nature and character of something physical to the nature and character of something abstract, and ultimately to a definition which includes "relevant" to a specific issue (to a matter at hand or a point).  Whereas, there are no significant obsolete definitions of relevant, which has, therefore, been as to a specific issue (to current issues or a matter at hand) since c. 1560.  This leads to an inference as each word began with a physical application (holding, raising) that, as the word's usage drifted into intangibles and abstract concepts, the application got narrower to allow for the lack of obvious identification of the relationship between the subjects being related.  Great.  Both words now relate to intangibles and abstract concepts with narrow applications.

Back to the etymologies.  Pertinent with "belonging" has a element that the thing or idea is part of a greater group or whole, while relevant with "lessening" as of weight is not part of a group, but merely assists the group or whole.  Pertinent might even be integral, without which the greater group or whole is incomplete, while relevant is helpful, but without which the group or whole will go on.  Finally!!!  A distinction.  But it does also suggest that pertinent is a subset of relevant.

So, hold on.  It is going to be a bumpy ride while I try to use these.

Bob was pertinent to the discussion.  Probably not, since Bob alone, without more description, does not necessarily connote a person who is intrinsic or required for the discussion.  Bob, the CEO of BigCorp, was pertinent to the discussion of the merger with SmallCorp.  Bob is now more critical to the discussion because of his title/position.  Bob, the mailroom attendant was pertinent to the discussion of the merger.  No.  No one expects that someone from the mailroom is important enough to be involved such a discussion, unless this is Undercover Boss.  Bob was relevant to the discussion.  Rather generic, and therefore, arguably true.  Bob, the CEO of BigCorp, was relevant to the discussion of the merger with SmallCorp.  Now, we disparage Bob's position which is obviously important to any significant business dealings, and possibly engage in a degree of sarcasm about Bob's relative lack of importance.  Bob, the mailroom attendant was relevant to the discussion of the merger.  Possibly, but only if Bob had certain helpful information as result of his work in the mailroom.  Let's see what happens when we stop using "to be".  The pertinent teacher discussed Bob's poor math scores.  A little esoteric.  Why wouldn't you just say the math teacher.  The pertinent teacher discussed Bob's behavior issues.  Better, because pertinent is modifying teacher, it presumes that there is more than one teacher dealing with Bob, and therefore, suggests that there is one teacher from this group who had knowledge of these specific issues to be able to discuss.  The pertinent janitor discussed Bob's...anything.  This makes no sense.  One would not expect a janitor to be in a group of people who had any connection to Bob to be elevated to this level of discussion.  However, the relevant teacher discussed Bob's poor math scores.  Still odd because one would presume the math teacher would have this distinction, and not anyone else.  The relevant teacher discussed Bob's behavior issues.   Yes, but this sounds like there are a pool of teachers who could have discussed the issue, but one was better.  The relevant janitor discussed Bob's math scores.  No.  The relevant janitor discussed Bob's behavior issues.  Possibly, if the janitor had information which could be helpful.  Now, just to be cute:  The pertinent Sith Lord dealt with the transgression.  Well, since we all know there are only ever two, a master and an apprentice, and pertinent separates one or more from a group, this is contradictory, and therefore, wrong.  Similarly, relevant doesn't work either.  As long as there could be sufficient specificity of the person or job description, but not absolute uniqueness in context (pertinent president v. pertinent president at the G8 summit), pertinent can be used.  Relevant being broader works in all cases, except when the uniqueness is inherent and/or obvious and therefore, diminishes that quality.

Now, that we have exhausted people, let's try other sentient beings.  The kitten was pertinent to the litter.  Not really.  To parallel the previous sentences, the kitten must do something for the group.  The litter was pertinent to the kitten.  Ooh, well, yes, because if we rewrite it out of passive voice it becomes something like: the kitten found the litter pertinent.  And the kitten would need or want to be part of the litter.  But is uniqueness or specificity implicated?  Not really, but it still works perhaps because the importance is so high for the kitten relative to the litter.  The kitten was relevant to the litter.  Probably, still generic that it could mean anything.  The litter was relevant to the kitten.  Same.  Even if we rewrite it, the kitten found the litter relevant.  Yep.  Moving on.  The cat was pertinent to the mouse population in the area.  Ok.  Was this a super-mouser?  The cat was relevant to the mouse population in the area.  Yes.  The worker ant was pertinent to the colony.  No, too vague.  The worker ant was pertinent to the queen's well-being.  Still no, because we know the worker ant does not have a specific enough job.  I'm not sure there is anything the worker ant could do that would be pertinent.  The worker ant was relevant to the colony.  Vague, and therefore, probably true.  The worker ant was relevant to the queen's well-being.  Still vague, and therefore, probably still true.  The seeing-eye dog was pertinent to Bob's well-being.  Yes.  The seeing-eye dog was relevant to Bob's well being.  Also, yes, but given the inference that Bob is blind, and knowing the unique relationship between a seeing-eye dog and its owner, the specificity of the task raises it to a level of pertinent.  This is not dissimilar to multiple CEOs of a corporation over the life of the corporation.

On to the inanimate.  The pertinent bolt was missing from the gate and thus, it would not stay closed.  Yes, without this bolt, the gate does not function, although the usage is a little esoteric.  The relevant bolt was missing from the gate, and thus, it would not stay closed.  Also yes, but for a different reason, inasmuch as multiple bolts could fill the function.  The puzzle was missing a pertinent piece.  Yes, because a puzzle is comprised of set of unique pieces without which the puzzle is incomplete.  The puzzle was missing a relevant piece.  Yes, technically, but not as good because while the missing piece would be helpful to finishing the puzzle, really helpful, and there might be other ways to finish it (trace the missing piece and request a replacement), the piece is a critical element.  So, we can see by usage that pertinent works for a thing obviously comprised of other component parts--decks of cards, games, Ikea furniture, computers, cars, houses--where any part or parts are required for the completion of the whole.  Having assembled the pertinent ingredients, the chef began to make the recipe.  Yes.  Having assembled the relevant ingredients, the chef began to make the recipe.  Also, yes, but without the gravitas that these ingredients are necessary to the recipe.  Without all the pertinent ingredients, the chef could not make the his signature omelette.  Without all the pertinent ingredients, the omelette was just scrambled eggs.  Yes.  And just for completeness:  Eggs are a pertinent ingredient to an omelette.  But all these sentences are still varying degrees of correct.  One can only know the range by exploring the fringes, which means seeing when usage fails.  However, writing bad sentences which demonstrate this failure is actually hard.

The pertinent apple was missing from the tree.  Grammatically correct, but utterly nonsensical for usage.  What makes this apple special, or the absence of the apple makes the group of apples on the tree, or even the tree itself, incomplete?  Was this the only one which had a worm?  We can't tell that from context, and with any context, this is just silly.  The relevant apple was missing from the tree.  Again, grammatically correct, but also useless without any context.  So, by themselves, these words have an inherent comparison of what they do for the other noun(s) in the sentence.  If the pertinent apple were missing from the fruit bowl.  Again, what makes this apple special that its absence from the fruit bowl makes the latter incomplete?  Was it the only apple?  But if it were the only apple, we wouldn't use pertinent; we would use only and be discussing apple thieves or hungry artists.  The relevant apple was missing from the fruit bowl.  Same.  There still isn't enough specificity to the group.  Tree was too generic, and especially with the overtone of it being an apple tree, there were too many equal apple substitutes.  Fruit bowl suggested a smaller group, but not enough that the apple was critical.  And relevant in each instance was just too broad to be useful to the generic apple and the group.  She found the pertinent book in the library.  Ok, this may have legs inasmuch as a library does not usually have more than one volume of the same book so each book is presumptively unique and part of the greater collection of the library.  She found the relevant book in the library.  No. Because of the uniqueness of the collection of books in a library, pertinent should be used.  I will note, however, that our ear hears relevant in this sentence as correct.  She found a pertinent book in the library.  Awkward and bizarre because each book would be unique, and therefore, every book she found would technically be pertinent to the library, otherwise, why was it there???  She found a relevant book in the library.  Correct.  She found a pertinent book on the history of cats in the library.  Yes.  This book has answered all the questions she had about the topic, noting there may be more than one pertinent book, but you wouldn't have to read more than one.  She found a relevant book on the history of cats in the library.  Yes.  But this one is merely helpful on the subject.  A Google search may give you a lot of relevant articles, one or more of which may be pertinent.  Yes, of course.  In short, pertinent connotes that the thing is a necessary element, while relevant may be optional.

Intangibles/abstracts:  The debate ended when she researched the subject in a pertinent Wikipedia entry.  Yes, although I note that since one page stopped the argument, it would probably be "the pertinent Wikipedia entry", as "a" implies that there might be more than one pertinent Wikipedia entry, which may be true, but you would never know because you would stop looking.  The debate ended when she researched the subject in a relevant Wikipedia entry.  Yes, more or less, but it does not have the gravitas that this research was dispositive on the issue; it was merely helpful enough to end the debate, at least for now.  The debate ended when she researched the actor's name on the pertinent IMDb movie link.  Technically yes, but pertinent here is utterly unnecessary as the movie link itself is unique and doesn't need any qualification that it would be a definitive source of this information.  Similarly, the word's definition was found in the pertinent entry of the dictionary.  Yep.  The debate ended when she researched the actor's name on the relevant IMDb movie link.  Now, because relevant is broad/vague in this context, it allows for the possibility that more than one movie link could be helpful.  The word's definition was found in the relevant entry of the dictionary.  Seriously?  Why qualify the entry in any way?  It just is.  He gave the pertinent details to the sketch artist.  Yes, absolutely.  He gave the relevant details to the sketch artist.  Pertinent is better because of the uniqueness of the details which would be communicated, while relevant, having heard pertinent used, sounds like he was deciding which details to give, and not just giving the sketch artist everything he could remember.  However, relevant would more likely be used because pertinent is not as well known a word.  The actor struggled to display the pertinent emotion in the love scene.  Grammatically correct, but only the director can say it.  Pertinent suggests that there is a correct emotion, where there might be more than one emotion which could be applicable.  The actor struggled to display the relevant emotion in the love scene.  Better but only marginally because relevant is broader.  The actor struggled to display a pertinent emotion in the love scene.  Yes.  What a difference an article makes, because now there is subset of applicable emotions that perhaps the director and/or the text suggests, and the actor is not acting within that subset.  The actor struggled to display a relevant emotion in the love scene.  This would be a scathing review.

So, just going back a few sentences, let's examine "a" versus "the" with these words.  A pertinent teacher discussed Bob's behavior issues.  This still works, but now the teacher is one of a subset of teachers who can discuss Bob's issues.  A relevant teacher discussed Bob's behavior issues.  Still part of a subset of teachers, but with less gravitas than pertinent, but only if we hear them in comparison.  Otherwise, relevant would probably be used.  The same is true with cats:  Mnemosyne is a pertinent cat to the mouse population versus Mnemosyne is the pertinent cat to the mouse population.  The former makes her one of the subgroup known as mousers, and the latter makes her super-kitty, unless we limit her scope of activity to the house, in which case it is absolutely correct as Metis doesn't want to get her white paws dirty.  Mnemosyne is a relevant cat to the mouse population.  Mnemosyne is the relevant cat to the mouse population.  Yes, and yes, but without as much impact if one understands the inherent contribution connoted by pertinent.  Otherwise, all cats are relevant to mice, even as observers.  A pertinent apple was missing from the tree.  Now, it could be the only ripe one, or the only one with the worm, or some other unique characteristic.  The pertinent apples were missing from the tree.  One might suspect this could be said after all the ripe apples were picked.  A relevant apple was missing from the tree.  Still grammatically correct, but useless without any context.  I already did the book in the library and the actor.  However, if the man had only given a pertinent detail to the sketch artist, that would be accurate, and suggest that it was a very important detail (a tattoo or a scar), as opposed to the man giving a relevant detail (height, weight, hair color).

Now, I know I have gone into extreme detail on this particular entry, but I need to add one more detail.  As I mentioned, there is a specific legal meaning of relevant, and which is why I have deliberately avoided any sentences with Plaintiff's counsel.  Legally speaking, relevant is used as a catchall.  The relevant documents.  The relevant testimony.  The relevant cases.  This isn't just what would be helpful or optional.  These are required and often unique in nature, for which pertinent would otherwise be used.  Additionally, the use of relevant in law breeds the use of relevant.  We track the language of the case/statute in writing for the most persuasion (briefs) or best future enforceability (contracts).  I would suggest that the pervasive introduction of legalese into the mainstream has contributed to the increased non-use of pertinent.  So, for sake of completeness:  Plaintiff's counsel provided the relevant documents in response to her discovery requests.  Yes, absolutely.  Plaintiff's counsel disclosed the pertinent witness.  In law, no, otherwise, yes.  This is always relevant.  Now, keep in mind that the use of relevant instead of pertinent is only when actually used in law.  Otherwise: The pertinent parties were present in court, while the relevant witnesses gave testimony.   Yes, since this is an outsider's narration of the events.  The pertinent vote of the board ratified the new member.  Yes.  The vote was required to allow the new member to join and become part of the whole.  The relevant vote of the board ratified the new member.  Also yes, but doesn't have the gravity that the vote was required.  Maybe now, maybe later.  As a lawyer, however, I would get the requirement from the use of the word ratified, but if this is being documented in the minutes which are legally required or described later to prove that the vote was appropriately conducted, then it would be the relevant vote simply because of the legal context.

So, in summary, people are pertinent in what they contribute to the group.  Things are pertinent for their being in the group, a different kind of contribution.  Animates are a hybrid if they have a job function.  Intangibles and abstracts are pertinent for uniqueness, another different kind of contribution.  Relevant is just helpful no matter the function.  And ultimately, we must work to reign the overuse (not misuse) of relevant to make room again for pertinent.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hiatus v. lacuna

I expected that my return after nearly 9 months of silence would be with the word hiatus. An appropriate word. But I got inspired by the previous comparison of explain v. define. However, not to miss my return word, I give you:

Hiatus comes from the Latin for "hiare" for "to gape open". Of course, this began with a physical opening, but from clefts and fissures in organs and body parts to missing pages in manuscript, it came to be applied to the intangible c. 1613 as an interruption of an event or missing information in a sequence to just something anticipated which is missing. Meanwhile, its obvious comparison is lacuna, coming from the Latin "lacuna" for "a ditch, pit or hole", and although it also came to be applied to missing information in a sequence, this is an existing deficiency, of something that was never present.

There has been a hiatus in my regular blog definitions due to my overwhelming rehearsal schedule and the needs of two kittens. Yes in usage and yes in context. I apologize for the latter. Note that this is written in third-person, because I am not the gap but rather that the gap occurs to things relative to a sequence that I create. Arguably, I have been on sabbatical, but that's another word for another time when I've been away. There has not been a lacuna in my regular blog entries as that would imply that something was supposed to be there which was not. I try to write these as often as I can, but that does not presuppose that I am required to write them; therefore, it is only an anticipated lacking, not an actual lacking or deficiency. The third-party perspective is also required for lacuna, as I am not the deficiency, but the event or thing has the deficiency. Plaintiff's counsel's opposition to my motion had a lacuna in his argument which caused the Court to rule in my favor. Yes. Here the missing thing was required and therefore, the fictional argument was deficient. Perhaps the lacuna was due to a hiatus in his concentration? Yes, since there is no requirement that he has to continue to concentrate in order to write the motion--he could just be incompetent. So, hiatus is missing something hoped for and lacuna is missing something which should have been there.

Of course, both words apply to sentient activities (e.g., argument, thinking) and not just intangible activites of people (e.g., music, sleeping) or information created by people (e.g., pages in a book, assembly lines). There was a lacuna in the production line at the widget plant due to the daydreaming, a veritable hiatus of thought, by the worker. Ok, simple and easy, although it does appear that lacuna is applied more to the tangibles and hiatus to the intangibles. Let's try to flip them. An unexpected hiatus in the music occurred when the concert master broke a string. Ok. And, a lacuna in her acceptance speech was due to an uncontrollable emotional outburst. Ok, so they do work both ways, even if I did stretch the lacuna usage a bit. Was it really a deficiency, of something missing, or just a big pause? Maybe it is better stated that there was a lacuna in her acceptance speech due to censoring or a sudden interruption by the Emergency Testing System? Yeah, that works. This does tend imply that in a lacuna situation you don't get the missing part back, whereas in a hiatus, it resumes where it left off after the delay. A cliffhanger ending of a television series which is renewed next season is on hiatus, while the movie missing the second reel is a lacuna. A rain delay after the 5th inning is a hiatus when the game resumes; but a game ended by rain before the 5th inning had a lacuna until it was rescheduled (since, for those of you who are not baseball fans, the game could not have been a complete game, and will, therefore, be replayed). I remember when I learned this word in high school I used it to apply to the space on a page while you were waiting for the white out to dry, but kept writing the rest of the sentence after it. It was a lacuna in the text in the one truest sense. And although there is no formal requirement from the definition for there to be a sequence, the implied current usage seems to require continuity interrupted, rather than mere abstract existence of the missing element.

Can we use these words without superimposing continuity? She fell into the lacuna at the construction site and sued for her broken ankle. This is completely accurate from its Latin meaning and just dumb. The real question should be how do we know that something is missing unless we can see the stuff around it to infer where the thing should have been? Doesn't that require a degree of continuity? How else do you define the hole? The dentist discovered a lacuna in her tooth. Yep, again, just dumb. This word is "cavity", which is technically a lacuna, but would be absurd to use this way. So, I would venture that lacuna would require some degree of continuity. I have less of a problem requiring continuity of hiatus since that word comes from "to gape open" which itself implies action that changes, as opposed to a pre-existing condition.

So, now, let's see where the edges of usage are. We know the words apply to sequences created by people; can they be applied to sequences created by cats or computers. There was a hiatus in her drinking when I entered the room. Possibly, but only if my cat starts drinking again regardless of my standing there. This is a still a stretch to use this word, when the real word is "pause". So let's really have fun and see how absurd lacuna is with my cat... Yeah, I give. My cat had a lacuna in her bathing which left a bit of ungroomed hair behind her left ear. Bizarre, but technically correct. If a caterpillar could metamorphose into a butterfly without going through the chrysalis stage, would that be a lacuna? Theoretically speaking, maybe, but is it really a deficiency in an expected progression or just a different type of progression. The problem may be that I can't really expect anything out of my cat that a lacuna would arise. Does my cat have some responsibility that she could be deficient? She is starting to come when I call her, but it is not a duty; just a convenience for her for petting. So, if it is an activity, there must be sentience ascribed to the completion of that activity for the lacuna to have deficiency. Now, as for hiatus, anticipation inherently requires sentience, to hope for the activity to resume, which through a degree of anthropomorphism, I can ascribe more readily. She hopes to resume bathing/eating/sleeping after the brief hiatus caused by my presence. I get that scowl all the time, so I know that thought is there.

As for computers, since these activities are merely extensions of activities of people, there's more play with lacuna. The computer had a lacuna when compiling the computer code. Essentially, the computer is only doing the work it was programed to do, much like the production line at the widget factory, which could have just as easily been a malfunctioning robotic arm as a daydreaming assembly worker. There was a hiatus in the computer's processing due to a brown out. It still feels like an object rather than ascribing artificial intelligence or anthropomorphism. Anyway, no harm, no foul on either word.

So, let there be no lacunas to my blog--I don't want that kind of responsibility--and may the next hiatus be shorter!

Explain v. define

I am enjoying my time with the daughter of a friend, Julie, and we came upon this comparison.

Explain derives from the Latin "ex" for "out or from" and "planarum" for "a flat surface". So how does this get us to anything making sense, whether figuratively or literally? Well, perhaps, when we explain, we "flatten" out a problem so that both sides understand. Works for me. Define comes from the Latin "de" for "of or out of" and "finire" for "to finish", which is to say that define is the final thought on a word while this gives the implication that to explain is open-ended.

She tried to explain to her sister why she read her diary. Yes. Absolutely. Of course this would be something that would require lots of further explanation, and not be the end of the discussion. Many different reasons, possibly even evolving reasons as the discussion continues. She will be explaining reading her sister's diary for quite a while, as I doubt her sister will ever understand. Also, correct, both usage and in substance. As a result of reading her sister's diary, her sister stated the definition for what is private. Yes, because the definition is concrete and not subjection to interpretation. Plaintiff's counsel explained to the Court why the opposition to the motion was late, but the definition of the rule for timely filing was clear. Obviously, people can explain and define as well as other animates such as these beings exhibit human characteristics and certain tangibles such as these are activities of people. Inanimates do not explain or define. The wind does not explain the weather, nor does it define the air. Not even metaphorically. The wind may portend weather and describe the air, but even "define" is pretty sketchy. DD does a poor job of defining words, and leaves many usages for outside explanation. My kittens cannot explain their needs to me, except by scratching, mewing and purring, and even then, I don't have a definition of what these signals mean. Yes.

I am looking forward to explaining the usage of more words as I define the difference of various alleged synonyms. Thank you for your patience!

Monday, February 25, 2008


This Thursday, I will be performing in the world premiere of William Bolcum's Eighth Symphony, a work commissioned for the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It is a contemporary setting of selections of William Blake's Prophetic Books (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Jerusalem and America: A Prophecy). What does this have to do with "unctuous". In Part 1, "Rintrah roars", the tenors sing the line: Now the sneaking serpent walks in mild humility. The marking for that is "unctuous". I don't pretend to be a Blake scholar, nor do I really grasp a tenth of all the symbolism in these selections, but I do find this particular marking to be a riot. So, on that note (pun intended), I bring you: unctuous.

Unctuous derives from the Latin "unctus" for the act of anointing or smearing. It is related to "unguent", the thing that is smeared. And since this word developed c. 1350, its etymology is not so disjointed. From the oily or soapy feeling of the unguent, to having similar characteristics of a unguent generally (greasy or oily), to general characteristics which may be construed as slippery, and from there is just an easy leap to smug or suave, as a form of a slippery attitude.

Oatmeal soap is less unctuous owing to to the rougher texture of whole oats in the bar. Ok, but I don't think we commonly use unctuous to describe things that are actually slippery. Oil unlike ice is unctuous. Ice can't be unctuous since it isn't viscous, nor does it feel slippery until you are slipping. Oil is always slippery. And, sorry for the graphic reference, so is mucus. More often, now, unctuous is used negatively to describe people. Car salesmen have a reputation for being unctuous. Plaintiff's counsel's unctuous courtroom demeanor detracted from his credibility. Too easy. So, let's go back to the Blake excerpt. I think the serpent is a direct reference to the serpent from the Garden of Eden, and that this character would be "walking in mild humility", belies a certain slick character to try to seduce the listener. Whether the tenors can pull that off, I let you know after Thursday.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mnemonic; metronomic

In honor of the newest additions to my household, Mnemosyne and Metis, two adorable kittens that I rescued from a local shelter last week, I offer mnemonic and metronomic.

Mnemonic derives from the Greek "mnemon" for "of or relating to memory" and the adjectival suffix "ikos". By mid 1700s it emerged in its current form, so having successful made it through the Dark Ages, it still retains it original etymological meaning as a noun for "of or relating to memory" and as an adjective, for "something assisting in memory".

For those familiar with ABC's Schoolhouse Rock, mnemonic is easy to use. A catchy short song is an excellent mnemonic for learning odd lyrics about parts of speech and the evolution of a bill into law--and commercial ads! Accordingly, music is the mnemonic device of the previous example. It should come as no surprise, then, that Mnemosyne, the Titaness of memory, is the mother of the muses, and that music is one of the great mnemonics. And mnemonic is not just something that you remember or can remember, like a scene of graphic violence or nudity in a movie, but something that is intended to help you remember something. Every Good Boy Does Fine was a mnemonic sentence I was taught to remember the keys of the lines on treble clef. FACE was the equivalent mnemonic for the spaces on the treble clef. Fortunately, I don't need those anymore... Lists are an obvious mnemonic for all kinds of things, but aren't nearly as much fun as something set to music or with a cute rhyme.

Now metronomic comes from the Greek "metron", a combinative form of the pre-Indo-European "me" for "measure" and "nomos" for "rule or law". This is the same "me" which is the root of Metis, the goddess of wisdom, skill and cleverness, and mother of Athena, who took on those characteristics subsequently. It isn't quite a stretch that the "measure" of a person would also be these characteristics. So, metronomic, then, is the adjective of metronome, a mechanical (or electrical) instrument which clacks out a measured tempo (Italian for time), and therefore, having such a audible measured tempo as if my such mechanical (or electrical) instrument. Being a musician, I have a variety of metronomes, although I still prefer my original Seth Thomas from when I was 5. My electrical one once scared me in an airport when it got accidentally switched on and did sound quite a bit like a ticking bomb.

Although I practice certain passages with a metronome, my objective is to make my performance of the piece convey the meter without sounding rigid and metronomic. Bored pencil tapping can have inadvertent metronomic qualities. So can certain alarm clocks and kitten mewing, which may or may not occur at the same time. It does, however, come down to a simple fact that the metronome is an audible mechanism, even though my electronic one has a flashing light only option. [Ed note: this is not as useful as the clacking sound to force you to pay attention to the beat.] And a metronome is supposed to measure a rate of time, not time itself. Therefore, metronomic should be audibly and consistently repetitive. After a long family drive, "This Old Man" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" become so metronomic, it gave both parents (metronomic?) headaches. Tiresome and tedious also work just as well, but the idea is that the song became monotonous and overly accented to just those repetitive beats. The metronomic opening statement by Plaintiff's counsel nearly put the jury to sleep. Ok. That's accurate, if a little opaque on the meaning. But most people know what a metronome is, so that makes it easy to get from context that it wasn't the content of the speech, but the manner of delivery. Think incessantly droning but with a clipped tendency as from the pendulum suddenly swinging in the opposite direction.

Well, neither of the kittens is particularly metronomic, even if they do wake me at 5:00am, and neither are they prone to mnemonics, or even really quite remembering from their mistakes as they are only just 3 months old. But they are exhibiting some of the qualities of their namesakes, and that's good enough for me! Welcome to my home. I'll work on your vocabulary later... :-)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Imprimatur; Indicia

A few days ago this word came up on DD, and it remedially tickled my fancy. Obviously, not too much, or I would have done this entry sooner, but what do you expect? I'm a busy person like everyone else, and not everything is immediately fascinating.

Imprimatur comes from the Latin "in" "primere" for "press in" as in to print by pressing. It shares a common etymological root to the word "impress" and therefore to the word "press", for quite literally to print by pressing or imprint. When we finally get to the command form of the verb c. 1650, the word took on the derivative meaning of "let it be printed", and retained that meaning through to the present, although now as a noun for an official printing, and therefore, a sanction or approval as for the printing or something that could be printed.

The securing of license of a copyright is an imprimatur. Ding. Technically correct. Idiotic to say. What it doesn't tell you about the word is redundant in the licensing reference so the sentence sounds unnatural, almost forced, which in fact it was because the first sense of the word, the approval to print, is not how it is most frequently used. As I've discussed with other words, the fun is in taking it out of the literal element. That the corporate president personally typed the plan gave it the imprimatur to implement immediately. Plaintiff's counsel frequently believes that because he asks for evidence to be admitted in a motion that the judge will give it her imprimatur. Doesn't even need to be in writing to have the usage work, although the writing would be a better inference from the word. So, the word works with things that actually are in writing, or could have been in writing (e.g., theories, ideas, hopes, dreams). When a dictator remarks on his desire this is as good as an imprimatur to make the desire a reality.

Ok, now that I've exhausted imprimatur, it occurs to me that truly interesting word is indicia. This is really just Latin borrowed into English without modification, like alumni, but at least in my circles, indicia gets inappropriately used for imprimatur, and so although I have my rules against defining foreign words, I'll make an exception for clarification.

Indicia is the combinative form of "in" and "dic" for "to show or declare" from the Indo-European root "deik", and gives us common words like indicate and index, and even the reference to index finger. Therefore, indicia is a sign that shows or declares something. A dog tag is an indicia of ownership of the pet on your leash. And herein lies the rub. Indicia is plural, indicium (like datum and memorandum) is singular. Therefore, technically, it should be a dog tag is an indicium of ownership of the pet on your leash, but now we've become overly erudite. It is Latin, and as such, we should observe its gender and number forms accordingly, however, I don't hear many people use datum correctly, either among scientists or lawyers, so to avoid being corrected, make sure your signs are always plural. The judge's frequent nods were indicia of agreement with the arguments I was making. Whew. Her groans were indicia that the masseusse had found the right tension points in her shoulders. Sometimes you might hear someone speak of an imprimatur of approval, and this is the misuse that I referenced. Obviously, we know that imprimatur is itself an approval so this usage is inherently redundant, and makes imprimatur into a sign, which as we know is indicia. Indicia of approval is the correct phrase. Signatures on the contract were indicia that the parties approved the terms. I will note that indicia are acts, not specific words, which show or declare, so the terms of the contract themselves are not indicia of the intent of the parties, but rather the signing of the contract which are indicia of the intent to abide by the terms. The negative can also be a sign. Her mother's unwillingness to sign the permission form for the field trip to go rock climbing was an indicium of her fear that her daughter would get hurt. Hyper correct and very odd sounding, indeed.

Personally, I like the word indicia much more than imprimatur, but I'm going to be especially vigilant to use imprimatur as the approval and not the sign and to see how the singular of indicia plays among my friends.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Friable v. Frangible

This is perhaps not the most auspicious post to mark my first post of 2008, but these words came up recently on DD, and I enjoy using them. Since, they're not interchangeable, and it's about time I learned the real difference! Call me inspired. I'll take it where I can.

Friable comes from the Latin "friare" for "to rub, break, or crumble into small pieces". Pretty straightforward to the current usage of "easily crumbled or reduced to powder". Must be because this word originated c. 1560, and not in the Middle Ages. What I find interesting is that it is related to "fricare" for "to rub", which gives us friction, but I'll save that for another time. Unfortunately, unlike the common word friction, friable doesn't have an easy association. Instead, it sounds like a word used to describe a cooking style or something having to do with the clergy, and not something which is broken through friction into small pieces.

Now, frangible comes from the Latin "frangere" for simply "to break", and is just as straightforward for its current usage of "easily broken, capable of being broken, brittle or fragile", even though it originated in the Middle Ages c. 1400. And just like friable, frangible doesn't give it's meaning away too quickly. Sounds like a pastry, even though I know with the "ible" suffix it is an adjective. Oh, well. Sometimes good words just need to be memorized.

So, with two straightforward etymologies to usage, the distinction is also blessedly straightforward. Even though friable has as part of its meaning "to break", in common with frangible, the difference is breaking due to the activity (rubbing) versus breaking due to the composition of the item (brittle). It becomes more obvious with usage.

Dry cookies are friable such that even milk can't revive them, but the glass the milk is served in is frangible. Children's toys are engineered to break in a frangible, not friable manner so that the child doesn't have an opportunity to ingest small pieces. Salt erodes concrete with friable results, back to it original sand and rock components. Snapping a pencil demonstrates its frangible qualities as well as the writer's total frustration. Ok, now that we've gotten the obvious usages out of the way. Because we have activity and composition at issue in the etymology of the words, the common usage is with tangible things. Forced to live in the South for too long, even her steely composure could be rendered friable. Perhaps a little too evocative and esoteric at the same time. You have to know that friable implies a rubbing element to understand that her composure was rubbed away. Not sure this works. Lashing out at a 4 year old may be a frangible result of holiday stress. Unfortunately, this usage also only makes sense if you know the brittle implication of frangible to understand that under the stress, the person snapped. Again, not sure this works, since no one would really understand what you meant to say. Plaintiff's counsel rubbed me all the wrong way with his friable personality. Ok, so it's a pun and it uses Plaintiff's counsel. Yeah, alright, next time I'll keep that one to myself. Plaintiff's counsel's friable client of the case crumbled under cross-examination. That's really just fragile, as well as requiring a colloquialism to get the point across, so, no. Whereas my frangible witness was subject to be treated as a hostile witness. Either that, or he'd be removed by a court officer. Yeah. Still not getting the meaning of this word from context, and my usages probably wouldn't motivate my listener to look up the word either. Friable ideas eventually yield to reason. Maybe, but just barely. Frangible ideas don't withstand even basic scrutiny. Also, maybe, but it leads me to believe that friable is a more versatile word. But I think it comes down to these words must be used with physically broken things in order to give your listener an opportunity to understand the word from context. If your listener is erudite enough to understand some nonstandard usages, then have fun!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ultimate; penultimate

These two words aren't intended to be interchangeable as much as they are misused that way, so this one is just fun for me.

Ultimate has a circuitous etymology. It derives its meaning from the Latin "ultima" for "the last syllable of a word", a feminine derivation of "ultimus", the superlative comparative of "ulterior" which means "more distant or farther", and which is itself related to the prefix "ultra" for "located beyond" or "on the far side of" and the comparative derivation "ulter" for "beyond". I'll save "ulterior" for another day, and leave this one with the understanding that the use of "ult-" implies distance. Now, by applying it to a "last syllable", it goes from being a great distance beyond what can be observed or perhaps even comprehended (I'll foreshadow "ulterior") to simply last, where the distance is still present, but not required to be great. And from there, the physical distance requirement was dropped, leaving only the connotation that the thing had come to an end. It has to be the last by whatever distinction of last you choose to employ (e.g., maximum, highest, total, final)

Scientists have hypothesized on the ultimate boundary of the universe. A bit esoteric, but if you've ever studied astronomy, you may understand that the universe is expanding, and at some point, it may stop expanding. It should be noted that this is a mixed usage of time and space, so not quite a pure distance application. The ultimate loser of the marathon was the last person to cross the line, or arguably, the first person to quit running. Don't confuse the distance in the example of the footrace for a physical distance attached to ultimate. The "last" element of this example is time. Still trying for just distance. So much easier with the abstracts. Many believe the ultimate measure of power is money. Correct, but not necessarily true. Plaintiff's counsel's ultimate goal is to settle the case fast, even at the cost of getting more money for his client, therefore, the ultimate outcome of his incompetence was being fired. Note that a goal is not necessarily an end, so there is no redundancy, whereas saying "the ultimate end" would be. The ultimate point in the climb was the top of the mountain. Ok, it's distance, but you still have to get down the mountain, so shouldn't the ultimate point of any trip be to get back home? The term "ultimate destinations" is bandied about so freely as euphemisms for luxury destinations, but a true ultimate destination is really the ICU ward, or the hospice! Yeah, abstracts are much easier.

Meanwhile, penultimate is an odd little word that isn't used enough. So, now that we've been through "ultimate", the only difference is the Latin prefix "paene" meaning "almost", which, of course, gives us the word for "the next to the last" because what is "almost last" must be so close to last as to be the next to last.

Plaintiff's counsel's penultimate goal is to make his client happy, or perhaps not be reported for his ethical violations, while the ultimate goal is to make millions for himself. The penultimate point of my trip when I pass through U.S. Customs & Immigration successfully with all my international purchases. Ok, so I've gotten distance out of the way, but it doesn't sound quite right. Penultimate seems to have become solely attached to abstracts. Y is the penultimate letter of the alphabet. Pedantic and uninspired. Students whose last names start with Y were frequently the ultimate victim of Socratic method, but occasionally could be granted a reprieve to penultimate status if a Z last name enrolled. Italian is distinguished from French by the abundance of penultimate versus ultimate stresses. Try it. You'll see. Well, I think you get the picture. Basically, if it can end, it can be just before the end, and subject to myriad interpretations and usages.

So, I hope this is not the ultimate posting for this year, but as I have less than 24 hours and a small party to host, which will still require grocery shopping and cooking, it may well be. At best, if I can scrounge another easy comparison, one that doesn't go through the Middle Ages or require the magnifying glass with OED, this may be the penultimate post. But in any event, Happy New Year!!!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Remiss (remit)

I've frequently enjoyed this word, and now I have more cause to use it, given my recent lapse in posts.

Remiss is a derivation of remit from the Latin "mittere", which means "to send", and with "re" means "to send again", or more colloquially, "to send back". From there, to went from the tangible, of sending back something, to putting something back to its original condition as an extension of if the thing never needed to be sent back, applied to both physical and mental conditions, and then to pardoning as the ultimate way of putting a mental condition back to its original state. So, what does this have to do with being slack or relaxed or finally to "being neglectful of a duty"? Must have occurred in the Middle Ages... Yes, of course! Somewhere c. 1400, late Middle English created the word remiss from "remissus", the past participle of remittere, and as with so many words from this time, gave it some random attribution. Well, in the spirit of not being remiss, in any definition or etymological derivation, I'll give it a shot to reconcile this meaning.

When last we left the etymology of remit, it was to put something back to its original condition as if it had never occurred. And as long as we're going to pretend that something never occurred, let's just say that we're not being too strict in the application of the thing sent. From there, it is just natural extension to say that the failure to strictly apply the force or effect is carelessness or laziness. The requirement that there be a duty derives from the intent to have a force or effect from the thing sent. By a second route, there is the natural inference that the thing which was theoretically "sent back" had no force or effect. Now, of course, that requires a change in perspective from the recipient to the object being received, but from the lack of force or effect, which is a latent definition for remiss, it is an easy step to not having enough force or effect when such was expected, to simply being careless or lazy. In both cases, the lazy inherent meaning also gives rise to a sluggish or slow meaning, but the speed of the force or effect, or lack thereof, has no bearing on the etymology of remit or remiss, and is an inappropriate extension. Remiss is just about a failure to act when there is a duty to do so, at whatever pace that may be. That a failure to have force or effect may not be observed or acknowledged for some time is what gives the appearance of being slow or sluggish, but that's a relative perception based on context. In litigation, Plaintiff's counsel's failure to answer the emergency motion the day that it is received is just as remiss as his failure to complete discovery within the nine months provided by the tracking order.

So, in other usages... Her electricity will be turned off if she is remiss in paying her bill. My cat will meow at me if I have been remiss in feeding her enough roasted chicken. And finally, I have been remiss in posting entries to this forum. I fear that with my rehearsal schedule in the Spring, remiss may bleed into egregious. Bear with me, please!

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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Incite v. Inspire

I've been grading some Moot Court briefs, and this one came up.

Incite comes from the Latin "in" for "in" or more realistically, "to cause a person to be in" and "ciere" for "to set in motion" through a Late Latin derivation "citare" for to summon to a church court (related to citation). So it is not a big leap to get to the current usage of "to cause a person to be set in motion" or "to stir, encourage, or urge on; stimulate or prompt to action". Meanwhile, inspire comes from the same Latin "in" and "spirare" for "to breath", so quite literally, "to breathe into". It was originally meant as to breath life into, and then "to give rise to" like breathing life not just into a physical body, but into activities, and then their ideas, and then all intangibles. The initial usage has been abandoned mostly, but all the others remain in varying degrees. So pretty much, you can inspire anything.

So, what is the difference. Motion v. breath (life). Hmm. Well, incite can only be used with an activity as from the etymology, whereas, inspire is broader. English teachers incite reading with summer reading lists. English teachers inspire reading? Maybe, but not really. English teachers inspire writing novels. Incite requires an impetus--a deadline or an adjudication or guilt to motivate the action. Waiting for the opposition to my motion, my call to Plaintiff's counsel finally incited him to send it to me. Having promised his mother that he would clean his room, the threat of being grounded incited him to actually do the work. Inspire requires a new thing come from the action. While writing my opposition to Plaintiff's counsel's motion, I was inspired not just to attack it on the substance, but also on issues of bad faith. While cleaning his room, he was inspired to wash the car and take out the trash as well. Yeah, like that would ever happen. As for things beyond activities, the rousing cheer of the fans inspired the rookie with confidence to hit yet another double. In am not infrequently uninspired with any ideas for sentences using the wotd. I may be inspired to incite Plaintiff's counsel to be a better lawyer. However, I cannot incite Plaintiff's counsel to inspire his client to settle.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Consort v. Valet (vassal)

By request we have this analysis.

Consort comes from the Latin "con" for "with or through" and "sors" for "lot" as status or class, with some Indo-European roots in "sers" for the same. Then through the French "consort" to Middle English, it came to mean "to associate" and then the noun as of one who associates with another. It is now used predominantly to describe a spouse of a monarch.

Meanwhile, valet is a Old French derivative, c. 1560, of vassal which is a Middle Latin derivative ("vassallus"), c. 1300, of the Welsh "gwas" for "a young man" and Celtic/Irish "foss" for "servant". Of course, vassal still retains the meaning of a servant (a squire or a page to a nobleman), but c. 1600 came to be used exclusively with one who was tied to the land from the Feudal system. It's an interesting bifurcation of the word, needing one for the man and the land (vassal), and one for the man and the person (valet) generally inside the home. Today, valet is typically used for someone who takes care of clothing or your car. Odd division of labor, but both functions are still relative to the personal property of the "lord", and now the "lady".

Now the interesting comparison is that valet in the technical etymological sense would accompany the noble, much as the consort in the literal etymological meaning would, however, a consort had no particular gender associated with the position, and was frequently applied to women (that the reigning monarch was almost always a man until modern times), whereas a valet was only a manservant to a gentleman. There is also an inherent usage with consort that the individual is not a servant, although not an equal, but more of a companion. We can make all kinds of disparaging observations about the role of women relative to men in society, but there is no reason to give such a companion a different title when the word servant (or it's equivalent) already exists if his/her sole function were just as a servant.

That said, these words have fairly limited and specific usages. When I arrive at the hotel, I send my dress to the hotel valet to be pressed before the concert. Her husband has often extolled the virtues of having a personal valet, but the best she did was send his shirt out to be laundered. Since watching Ferris' Bueller's Day Off, I don't like having my car parked by the valet--never know what they do with it while I'm having dinner. Boring. After the Trojan War, the women of Troy were apportioned to the victorious Greeks as consorts (some may say concubines, but we'll deal with that word later). Prince Philip is the consort of Queen Elizabeth. Ok, you get the picture. The unequal spouse.

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.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Well, I absolutely love this word. It does not roll trippingly off the tongue, so it must be said with intent and clear diction. I don't think people use it enough, and I certainly don't think that those who do, use it correctly, so, let's dig in...

Inane simply enough comes directly from the Latin "inanis" for "empty, void or worthless" through the French "inanité". From c. 1400 to c. 1800, the word went from empty in a physical sense (including as a technical term for the void between dominant realities or the space between atoms) to empty-headed in an conceptional sense to silly in a behavioral or connotative sense. Ok, natural extensions. Nothing in space, nothing in your head, nothing worth hearing. So, of course, while it still retains a probably archaic usage about space from its etymological origins, now it refers to the things that empty-headed people would say. Which segues nicely into my first usage.

Plaintiff's counsel's inane arguments did not persuade anyone. This should draw the natural comparison to "insipid", which I analyzed earlier this week, and which means basically uninteresting. Certainly, Plaintiff's counsel's arguments could be both inane and insipid--silly and uninspiring--but I would probably lean towards inane. Although along the lines of rhombus and square, something which is inane could be insipid as the thing which is silly may also not inspire. But the articulable difference between inane and insipid is that insipid generally refers to intangibles which have "taste" from it origins in the taste of food, while inane may refer to anything which should have intellectual value. His thesis was filled with inane theories. Ok, if this was an astrophysical thesis, it could be a double entendre, but as a medieval literature thesis, it should be implied to be only the "modern" meaning. Her new novel had an inane plot where the dog did it. Blondes have a bad reputation for being inane. It doesn't work as well with people, as with their thoughts, but since this reputation is based on vacuousness and/or ditziness, the empty-headed and silliness works particularly well. Plaintiff's counsel is inane? possibly if he didn't study hard in law school and barely passed the bar exam. He would be technically devoid of knowledge. She gave him an insipid look indicating that she did not understand his discussion of the nuances of binary coding. I prefer vacant here. I still like inane better as a modifier of the intellectual thought, not a modifier of the alleged intellectual, but it has raised for me a number of words which may describe the void as well. Ah, well, as I said, I love this word, but I think I use is exclusively with Plaintiff's counsel. That I have so much occasion to use it just indicates the state of tort law. You'll need to find your own group of incompetents to apply this word (e.g., teachers, bosses/supervisors, coworkers, customers, relatives). Hmm. Maybe I need to use this word more...

Monday, October 15, 2007


In keeping with the words that "do not...mean[] what you think[] it means", this is a classic. When you get the reference, you'll understand why.

Like many words starting with "in" for "not", their given etymologies make you hunt all over a dozen other words to find what is really means. Conceivable comes from Latin "con" for "with or together" and "capere" for "to take" as the latter was derived from the Indo-European "kap". The Latin derivative was "concipere" which then became "conceivre" in Old French. Add a little suffix, "able" meaning "capable of", e voilà, we have "incapable of being taken with or together". Inconceivable. Yep. That does it for me. Not. Back to conceivable. Conceive generally refers to pregnancy, with a secondary meaning of creating an idea, not just life. [Ed. note: conception is not a related word, but there is the similar pair of concept, as an idea, and conception, as an creation of life which is interesting.] So, by extension, inconceivable should mean incapable making life. But inconceivable has no element of "life" associated with its usage. Somehow, c. 1631 when this word originated, creating life wasn't as important as stating what couldn't be understood. So the implication of creating an idea from conceivable became not being able to understand the idea for inconceivable, which is an incorrect negation of conceivable, which should instead be unable to create the idea. And we are left with the usage of "unimaginable, unthinkable and unbelievable". Oh, well, it wouldn't be the first word which etymology to usage is slightly askew.

That said, the usages of inconceivable, notwithstanding the movie, are pretty straightforward. It is inconceivable to me that people would not use the subjunctive tense, while it may be inconceivable to many more that the subjunctive tense still exists. The jury found Plaintiff's counsel's theory of the case inconceivable and awarded a defense verdict. I'd probably just go with unbelievable, but inconceivable adds a meta level to the unbelievability. Not just that the theory was unbelievable, but you can't imagine how anyone else could believe it. It is completely incapable of being grasped by anyone. Quantum physics, black holes, and imaginary numbers should be inconceivable, and once were. The homecoming queen found it inconceivable that she would not be admired by the entire school. A bit banal, but it does the trick.

Suasion v. Persuasion

Here's another archival post of mine.

Suasion. I remember this word raising my hackles a couple of years ago when it was the wotd on DD. Merriam-Webster defines both "suasion" and "persuasion" as "the act of persuading". Now, normally, I would reiterate that there are no true synonyms and distinguish the etymologies on each, except the etymologies are a little fuzzy. Suasion says it comes from Latin "suadere" for "persuasion" or "to advise", while persuasion says it comes from--wait for it--"per" and "suasion",so these are unhelpful. The mere addition of the "per" meaning through, doesn't add anything to the etymology or the meaning. 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, since these words both originated in the late Middle Ages, c. 1380. But, I'll make one last stab at a distinction, just for old times sake. The usage of suasion from the examples from DD 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. Still not much use for suasion. Perhaps suasion is just insipid.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I'm on a roll... This was not a DD wotd, but it sparks my interest as another word which may be both underutilized and misused.

Insipid derives from "in" meaning "not" and "sapidus" meaning "tasty". Cute. So "not tasty" becomes "flavorless" (not a big stretch there) to "without distinctive, interesting or stimulating qualities" generally. Ok. It's part of the natural shift to broaden the usage. At least it isn't a complete reversal of the word's etymology. Probably because this word evolved c. 1650, and not in the Middle Ages, either (see facetious and sarcastic). Was civilization smarter then? I'll leave that for someone else's discussion forum.

So, this insipid soup needs more herbs and definitely more salt. Poaching tenderloin makes great soup, but insipid steaks. After having found a recipe for pie crust that uses vodka, no one will claim that my apple pie is insipid. Alright, so that's the classic usage of the word that no one really uses. We just say bland. Now, the real fun begins with the expanded usage. Some words that DD proposes on wotd are just insipid. Jeremiad, pukka and mulct just don't inspire me. [Ed. note: These are words I do not intend to discuss on this forum. Look elsewhere if you want to know about them.] As a rule now, since I don't have time to deal with wotd on the daily basis that DD intends, I just skip the truly insipid ones and swoop for the most interesting (to me). Plaintiff's counsel's arguments are insipid. Insipid applies to intangibles and tangibles that rouse the taste element. The table is not insipid. The design scheme is insipid. Plaintiff's counsel may even be insipid, but I have some reservations about using this word with people or animates. I think since the modern definition comes from tasting, it has to be something that we perceive like a taste. I can "taste" the design scheme or the argument. I don't taste the furniture or the person. So I would use it sparingly with inedible tangibles, unless you're going for the sarcasm. I am diminishing Plaintiff's counsel to a bowl of soup. Sounds good to me. That's a double entendre of sarcasm!

Facetious v. Sarcastic

Facetious popped up a few days ago, while I was too busy to deal with it, but I think I'll go on a kick to discuss words that we hear all too commonly and wonder whether they are being used correctly. So...

Facetious comes from the Latin "facetus" for "witty" through the French "facetie" for "jest". It is a rare word, indeed, that maintains it etymological roots. Probably because the word didn't originate in English until after the Middle Ages, c. 1590. And today, it still means "not to be taken seriously or literally" or "amusing or frivolous" as from lacking serious content. Contemporaneous to the evolution of frivolous, sarcasm came into being, from the Greek "sarx" or "sarkos" for "a piece of meat" and pre-Indo-European base "twerk" or "thwares" for "to cut", and by a further Greek derivative through "sarkasmos" for "to sneer" and then the late Latin "sarcasmos". Approximately 100 years later, sarcastic came into being. Why it took 100 years to get the adjective from the noun, we may never know. Now, this may seem odd, to get from rending flesh to sneering, but the idea of the sneer is the biting comment, harsh or bitter derision, akin to rending flesh not with an instrument, but with words. So, the difference appears to be that facetious is a comment that is cute and not hurtful, while sarcasm is irony intended to taunt. Of course, many mask sarcasm in the guise of facetiousness, so as not to offend (as much).

When he whistled at the girls on the street while leering from his convertible, it was easy to make a facetious comment that he was acting like a dog. When he whistled at the girls on the street while leering from his convertible, it was easy to make a sarcastic comment that he was acting like an angel. Too easy, and going to get boring quickly. Facetious and sarcastic both refer to speech. Since these words refer to the witty or biting remarks of people, it doesn't work with acts of people. Plaintiff's counsel's facetious conduct to twirl his pencil while in Court just doesn't make sense. Plaintiff's counsel's facetious remark about the witness' disheveled appearance as indicative of whether the witness cared about his testimony was not appreciated by the jury. I make sarcastic remarks about Plaintiff's counsel's lack of competence repeatedly in these posts. Again, much too easy. The only thing I will add is that the type of speech to which facetious and sarcasm apply is usually not formal. It's not a facetious statement or a sarcastic order. Both are off the cuff, not formulated or memorialized. Sarcastic has a sotto voce or behind one's back connotation to its usage since you should not be inclined to make hurtful statements deliberately to someone. Telling your adversary that she is your best friend is sarcasm. Telling your friend that the big pink bow she is wearing in her hair makes her look 10 years younger is facetious, and borderline sarcasm.

Both great words. Use them well. Use the comments which are the basis of the words sparingly.

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!