Some Interesting Word/Phrase Facts
Paul V. Hartman
beg the question
Means to avoid an issue. In particular, it means to avoid answering
a question by taking as an assumption something which has not been
proven. It is a debaters phrase, and goes back to the time of
Shakespeare. Unfortunately, today, writers using the phrase mean it
as a substitution for: "which leads to this question..." and,
unfortunately, most readers today interpret it likewise.
What is now Nova Scotia was once called Acadia when settled
by the French, who were known as Acadians. Deported by order of the
British in 1755, they settled (largely) in southern Louisiana, in
several towns about 120 miles west of New Orleans. The name Acadian
eventually corrupted into cajun. Creole is a corrupted Spanish term
(originally: criollo, "native to the place"), which was applied to
early settlers of French or Spanish ancestry in the Western Hemi-
sphere. Both Cajun and Creole are now regularly associated with
chaise longue properly: SHAYS-long
Long since corrupted into CHAYS-lounge from the original French,
meaning "long chair." I recommend the original pronunciation to
all those who would participate in restoring the language.
cognoscente con-ya-SHEN-tee (noun) (plural= centi) (Italian)
a person of superior knowledge or taste; connoisseur
"When it came to wine, he was one of the cognoscenti."
suitable; fitting; worthy and well deserved.
"Hanging him was condign punishment for his heinous crime."
a collection of things; things piled up.
Although the word ends with an s, it is both singular and plural,
as are the words "kudos" and "shambles".
A dais (pronounced DAY-us, not DYE-us), is a raised platform for
speakers. A podium is a raised platform for one person. A lecturn
is a reading stand for one person, usually with a light. A rostrum,
originally meaning the prow of a ship, is a podium of substantial
character, which may indeed resemble the prow of a ship.
The most frequent error is to use podium when the speaker means
lecturn. A lecturn in a church is usually called the pulpit.
declasse DAY-class-SAY (French)
a person or thing which has lost the social status or class it
rambling; haphazard; jumping from one place to another
insincere, crafty, cunning; Clintonesque
dolce far niente DOLE-chay far knee-EN-tay (Italian)
without a care; sweetly doing nothing
a contraction of "fourteen nights", i.e. two weeks.
Some people regard "bimonthly" as occurring twice a month, and
others regard it as meaning every other month. (Good dictionaries,
unfortunately, allow either definition.) If your meaning is twice
a month, use "fortnightly" and there will be no confusion.
sickeningly excessive; offensive; insincere. Usually used as
"fulsome praise" in which the intent is to convey insincere praise,
exactly the opposite of the way it is interpreted by most readers.
A word often incorrectly used by writers who think the word means
"full" or "great."
Latin: "heavy"; same root as "gravity". Modern use is to identify
a person of great ("weighty") reputation. "One can only hope that
a man of gravitas will make him see his error before it kills him."
an idealized or worshipful biography, such as the portrait of Bill
Clinton regularly offered to us by his sycophants and poltroons.
something just beginning; commencing; incipient
l'esprit d'escalier les-pree des-cal-ee-ay
(literally: "the spirit of the staircase")
refers to that feeling of frustration you experience when, after the
opportunity has passed, you think of the perfect thing to say in an
argument or debate. (My guess is that the origin of this phrase comes
from a film well known to Frenchmen but unknown to me in which such a
recognition occurs to an actor while ascending a staircase.)
a lampoon posted in a public place; a satire. The word derives
from a statue in Rome ("Pasquino") upon which lampoons were
posted for public reading.
a composition, in writing, music, arts, etc., pretending to be
original but which echoes qualities of something already known.
paradigm shift/sea change/quantum leap
are expressions borrowed from various disciplines to indicate
a sudden and dramatic change in scholarship, science, or culture.
port-manteau port man-TWO
French for suitcase. "Port manteau word" is one which has been
created by blending two other words into a combined meaning. The
word "smog" is a port-manteau combination of "smoke" and "fog".
prix fixe PREE fix (French)
a fixed price. Used in restaurants to indicate that an entire
meal (and perhaps beverages) will be served at a fixed price.
(Not counting tax and tip.) "PREE fix-ay" is cute but wrong.
pyrrhic victory PEER-ick
A pyrrhic victory is a victory so costly that it is near
equivalent to a loss. It derives from the battle won by King Pyrus
of Epirus over the Romans at Asculum in 279 BC. Noting the heavy
losses his own side had taken, he is reported to have said: "One
more such victory and I am lost."
an adverb meaning "in the function of". Some uses include:
"The English King qua Head of the Church..."
"The professor qua soccer coach..."
a port-manteau word. It combines "recluse" and "seclusion".
a style of architecture, design, or decoration which is busy
with ornament, curvature, detail, delicacy. The style
dominated France in the early 18th Century.
roman a clef row-MAN ah clay
a style of novel in which the main or many characters are
thinly disguised real people. The novel "Primary Colors" is
a recent example in which the Clintons are portrayed with
fictional character names.
are days of youth, characterized by naivete and inexperience;
when one is "green". A frequent error is to use the phrase to
denote a period of wealth.
An Italian word meaning "to follow". Originally used by
musicians to mean a smooth transition from one selection to
another without modulation, it has come to mean any smooth
movement from one activity to another.
soigne SWAN-ya (French)
an adjective meaning very well groomed.
a contraction of two Greek words: "sophos" (wise) and "moros"
(foolish), indicating that a second year student bears both
qualities, with emphasis on the latter, thus "sophomoric" to
the last song of a dying swan. Unfortunately, swans do not
sing. But the last work of a creative artist is called his
tournedos TOUR-ne-DOUGH (French; final s is silent)
a filet mignon or a filet cut from the tip of a tenderloin,
cooked in a certain way. My favorite is the Tournedos Rossini:
served on a small toast raft with truffles and foie gras.
tsunami soo-NAH-mee (Japanese)
a storm wave (tidal wave) initiated by earthquake or volcano.
On the open sea, although massive, they usually rumble imper-
ceptibly beneath the surface, but when they reach land (traveling
at 400 mph) they produce waves 20 feet or higher, basically
wiping out everything in their path.
comes from an Algonquin word, "p'tuksit", which means "animal
with the round foot" (wolf). The name of the dinner jacket
comes from the town of the same name, Tuxedo, NY, a rich
community on the west bank of the Hudson River 40 miles north
of Manhattan, where the Very Wealthy, in the mid-19th century,
maintained "cottages" and gave each other lavish parties. One
enterprising fellow did the bold thing (c. 1893) of cutting
the tails off the formal dinner coat which was de rigueur at
the time, and a name and a style was born.
usufruct YOU-sa-FRUCT (noun)
Technically, the legal use of a property that does not belong to
you, although more broadly, "use and enjoyment", from the Latin
derivatives usus and fructus. "The deed included a usufruct to a
paved road at the front of the property." Elected officials have
usufructs for vehicles and office space.
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