Loaded Language: When Words Become Weapons

_superhero_portraits__wonderwoman_by_artisticasad69-d79irccThe last few months have been busy. I went on holiday, became the Managing Editor of a Canadian medical journal, spoke at an editing conference, landed a bunch of new clients, and brought home an Alaskan Malamute puppy. Busy might just be an understatement.

*dusts page, removes cobwebs from corners*  Continue reading

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X is for…

Yellow_by_byPiPa

Warm greetings, my dear readers, from an unseasonably chilly Ottawa. Today, I’d like to present the next instalment in my Vocabulary Series, the lovely letter X. There aren’t a lot of words that begin with this letter, but there are certainly some interesting ones. So let’s have a look.

All three of the words I’ve chosen are adjectives, probably because they are the most fun. This first word will make you sound very fancy, especially if you use it the next time you’re at an art gallery.

Xanthic (adjective)

Etymology:   First documented in English in 1817. Comes from the French xanthique, which in turn comes from the Greek xanthos, meaning yellow.

Definition:    Yellowish.

Example:   After catching a glimpse of the zombie horde, Xander looked a little xanthic.

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My second word choice is one I’d never heard before. Not only is its meaning pretty neat, but it’s also a lot of fun to say!

Xerophilous (adjective)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1860s, meaning drought-loving. Comes from combining the Greek words xero-, meaning dry or withered, and philous, meaning loving.

Definition:   Adapted to a very dry climate or habitat, or to conditions where moisture is scarce (used for both plants and animals).

Example:   Desert zombies are xerophilous, while swamp zombies prefer a much moister habitat.

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And my final word choice is another fun word to say out loud. Plus it has a cool connection to the human body.

Xiphoid (adjective)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1740s. Comes from combining the Greek word xiphos, meaning sword, and the Latin suffix –oid, meaning like or like that. The suffix –oid comes from the Greek suffix –oeides, which comes from the word eidos, meaning form.

I chose this word because the xiphoid process is one of my favourite anatomical terms. It’s a piece of cartilage at the bottom of your sternum that plays the important role of anchoring a bunch of muscles, including your abdominal diaphragm, which is kind of important in helping you breathe. And, unsurprisingly, your xiphoid process is shaped like the tip of a sword.

Definition:   Sword-shaped.

Example:   Frantically, Xander searched the abandoned house for something sharp and xiphoid.

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As always, etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.


Image credit:  byPiPa @ deviantART

V is for…

Vampire_Zuko_for_Leo_by_Depsycho

Holy moly! Can you believe it’s nearly June? Wasn’t I complaining about the snow and the cold not that long ago? Well, I’m not complaining now. My garden is in full swing and I’m off to Toronto next week to attend the annual Editors’ Association of Canada conference.

Today, I’d like to bring you the next instalment of my Vocabulary Series. I’m going to visit upon you a veritable variety of vexing and vainglorious vocabulary beginning with the letter V.

This first word is a fabulous verb that conjures visions of indecisive sea anemones. It kind of sounds like the action it describes, don’t you think?

Vacillate (verb)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1590s, meaning to sway unsteadily. Comes from the Latin word vacillatus, which is the past participle of vacillare, meaning to sway to and fro or to hesitate. Its more modern meaning to describe an inability to make up one’s mind was first documented in the 1620s.

Definition:    To waver between two different opinions, options, or actions; to be indecisive; to sway unsteadily.

Example:   Viktor vacillated; he didn’t know if he should pursue the voluptuous blonde running down the hill or her vainglorious lover, who was heading for the forest. He flipped a coin.

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This next word is one of my favourite adjectives, in part because it’s so much fun to say. But it also makes a great insult!

Vacuous (adjective)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1640s, meaning empty. Comes from the Latin word vacuus, meaning empty, void, or free, which is related to the word vacare, meaning to be empty. Vacare likely comes from a translation of the Greek word kenon, which means that which is empty. Its more modern meaning to describe a person was first seen in the 1840s.

Definition:   Unintelligent or expressionless; lacking substance or content; empty.

Example:   With a disappointed sigh, Viktor cornered his dinner. The young man’s vacuous gaze meant Viktor was in for an especially bland meal.

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Seeing as we’re at the letter V, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tell you about the origins of the words that describes one of my favourite monsters. Careful—the bonus word this week wants to suck your blood!

Vampire (noun)

Etymology:   First appears in the 1700s, referring to a spectral being in a human body who leaves the grave at night to drink the blood of the living while they sleep. Comes from the French word vampire, or the German Vampir, which is seen in 1732 in an account regarding Hungarian vampires. The French and German words come from the Hungarian vampir, which comes from the Old Church Slavonic word opiri. Similar words can be seen in the Bulgarian vapir and Ukranian uper. Franc Miklošič, an expert on Slavic languages, believed that the origins of vampire can be traced to the Kazan Tatar word, ubyr, meaning witch. However, Max Vasmer, who was an expert in the etymology of Indo-European, Finno-Ugric, and Turkic languages, disagreed.

The meaning that describes a person who preys on others—especially emotionally or psychologically—was first recorded in 1741.

Definition:   A reanimated corpse that leaves its grave at night to drink the blood of the living by biting their necks with abnormally long and pointed canine teeth; a person who preys ruthlessly on others.

Example:   As the sun began to rise, Viktor wished he wasn’t a vampire. He really missed eating pesto and sleeping in a bed.

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As always, etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.

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Linking up with this weekend’s moonshine
grid, over at yeah write.

Hey, if you’ve got a blog post that’s burning
a hole in your virtual pocket, you should
link up too!
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Image credit: Depsycho @ deviantART

T is for…

throne-2

Welcome, dear readers, to the 20th letter of my Vocabulary Series! I can’t believe we are so close to the end of the alphabet. Today, I thought I would tell you about some terrifically tasty words beginning with the letter T.

The first word I chose in celebration of one of my favourite shows, Games of Thrones, which aired one of its best episodes ever last night. (There are no spoilers below, in case you were wondering.) Anyway, this word is synonymous with kings from any number of domains.

Throne (noun)

Etymology:  First appears around 1200 as trone, meaning the seat of God or a saint in heaven. By 1300, it was used to describe a seat occupied by a sovereign. It comes from the Old French trone (compare to the modern French trône), which, in turn, comes from the Latin thronus, which comes from the Greek thronos, both meaning elevated seat or chair. Thronos came from the Proto-Indo-European root dher-, meaning to hold firmly or support. In English, the classical “h” starts to appear in throne in the late 1300s. Its humorous use to describe a toilet was first recorded in 1922.

Definition:  An ornate, often raised, ceremonial chair occupied by a monarch, bishop, or similar; the position, office, or power of a sovereign.

Example:  Kevin was having a blast as the newly appointed King of the Fire-Worshippers until he realized his throne was conveniently perched at the edge of a volcano.

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This next word I chose because I love the way it sounds just like it should.

Taut (adjective)

Etymology:  First appears in the mid-1200s as tohte, meaning stretched or pulled tight. It may come from the Old English tog-, the past participle stem of teon, meaning to pull or drag, which comes from the Proto-Germanic tugn, which comes from Proto-Indo-European root deuk-, both meaning to lead.

Definition:  Stretched or pulled tight; not slack; tense.

Example:  Kevin dangled over the mouth of the volcano, clinging to the taut rope and wondering why he hadn’t listened to his mother.

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The bonus word this week is another adjective. I can’t read—or say—this one without giggling, which might be a reflection on my maturity, but if you’ve ever read two pages of a romance novel you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

Turgid (adjective)

Etymology:  First appears in the early 1600s. Comes from the Latin word turgidus, meaning swollen, inflated, or distended. Turgidus comes from turgere, meaning to swell, and is of unknown origin. Its figurative use in prose is first recorded in 1725.

Definition:  Swollen and distended or congested; (of language) pompous or bombastic.

Example:  Reverend Blaze touched his turgid members reassuringly. “The swelling should go down once the sacrifice is complete.”

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As always, etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.

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Iron Throne image credit: HBO

S is for…

squirrel

Well, dear readers, April is finally here. Unfortunately, my backyard is still covered in snow. So, in an attempt to cheer myself up I thought I’d focus on my Vocabulary Series and bring you some of the best words beginning with the letter S.

I think this was the toughest choice yet. There are so many superb and scintillating choices. Words like scissors, snuggle, soap, slither, and squalid, just to name a few. After much agonizing, I managed to select three scrumptious words for you.

The first word I chose is a great adjective, in part because it’s so much fun to say. But it also sounds a lot like the behaviour it’s used to describe.

Salacious (adjective)

Etymology:  First appears in the 1660s. Comes from the Latin word salax (from the genitive form salacis), meaning lustful. Likely originated from the Latin salire, meaning to leap, as in a male animal leaping on a female in a sexual advance.

Definition:  Lustful or lecherous; having undue or indecent interest in sexual matters; tending to cause sexual desire.

Example:  Buffy stared at Angel, a salacious look in her eyes. As he moped about his vampire nature, she thought about getting him out of his shirt.

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This next word I chose especially for one of my friends. You know who you are. This animal is disliked by some, but I love watching them frolic in my backyard and figure out new ways to get at my squirrel-proof bird feeder.

Squirrel (noun)

Etymology:  First appears in the early 1300s. Comes from the Anglo-French esquirel, which came from the Old French escurueil, meaning squirrel or squirrel fur. This, in turn, came from the Vulgar Latin scuriolus, which is a variant of the Latin scurius, both meaning squirrel. (Squirrels belong to the Family Sciuridae.) The Latin came from the Greek skiouros, which literally means “shadow-tailed” and is a combination of skia, meaning shadow, and oura, meaning tail. Oura comes from the Proto-Indo-European root ors, meaning buttocks or backside.

As a side note, the Old English word for squirrel was acweorna, which became aquerne in Middle English, before it was replaced with squirrel. Is it just me or does acweorna sound kind of like acorn?

Definition:  Any of a variety of slender, agile, arboreal or ground-dwelling rodent with a long bushy tail and furry coat, typically feeding on nuts and seeds.

Example:  Fortunately, the vampire squirrel was only interested in sucking the life out of acorns, and the occasional tomato.

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The bonus word this week is something we couldn’t live without. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun to say!

Synapse (noun)

Etymology:  First appears in English in 1899, from medical Latin. It was introduced by English physiologist Sir Michael Foster at the suggestion of the classical scholar, Arthur Woollgar Verral. Comes from the Greek synapsis, meaning conjunction, which comes from synaptein, meaning to join or bind together. Synaptein combines syn-, meaning together, and haptein, meaning to fasten.

Definition:  A junction between two nerve cells (neurons), consisting of a minute gap across which impulses pass.

Example:  They waited for Igor’s synapses to start firing. It was a long wait.

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As always, etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.

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Linking up with the Moonshine grid over at yeah write.

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Image credit: Joanna RedesiukPhotoxpress.com

 

The Evolution of Brave

Makeup

I’m sure many of you have seen—or at least heard about—the sans makeup selfie craze that is currently sweeping social media. The idea is to post a self-portrait in which you are not wearing any makeup. In theory, this is supposed to raise awareness for cancer. The good news is that it has resulted in a noticeable increase in donations for various cancer research organizations. The bad news is that it suggests not wearing makeup is brave. I take issue with this for two reasons. One: having cancer is not even remotely similar to not wearing makeup. Two: do we really live in a society that believes a woman who doesn’t wear makeup is doing something brave?

As per usual, this sort of thing makes me wonder about the origins of the words being used. So instead of turning this into a rant about what’s wrong with the world, I thought I’d talk about the word brave.

The modern definition of brave describes someone who is ready to face and endure danger and pain. In other words, someone who demonstrates courage. The word is first seen in English in the late 1400s. It comes from the French word with the same spelling, meaning splendid or valiant, which in turn comes from the Italian word bravo, meaning brave or bold. However, the original meaning of bravo was wild or savage, which likely came from the Medieval Latin word bravus, meaning a cutthroat or a villain. Bravus came from the old Latin pravus, meaning crooked or depraved.

So, just like the word nice, brave’s meaning has evolved considerably from its original roots. Personally, I like the modern meaning better than the original Latin, so maybe we ought to be a bit more judicious in our use of adjectives to describe hopping on bandwagons.

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Image credit: Arman Zhenikeyev / PhotoXpress.com