Word of the day: Luculent

(adj.)  /ˈluːkjʊl(ə)nt/

This is a great, but underutilized, word which describes something that is clearly expressed, often in reference to writing or speech. The secondary meaning was once the more prevalent one -that of something brightly shining or illuminated- but it has since given way to the rather more poetic figurative sense. It also has an adverbial form; luculently. May it help you luculently convey your thoughts.

Examples of use;
The author’s style demonstrates a luculent understanding of people’s lives.
The musical score was frequently discordant, but contained moments of luculent beauty.
Her luculent argument was complemented by her natural charisma.

The complex nature of the subject makes it almost impossible to speak of it luculently.
It is luculently apparent that this course of action is the correct one.

Etymology: Late Middle English. From Latin luculentus, from lux, luc- ‘light’.

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Word of the day: Logomachy

(n.)  /ləˈɡɒməki/

Apropos to the subject matter of Cor Lingua, logomachy refers to an argument about words. The plural, also usable as a count noun, is logomachies. Use it well, and I hope you don’t get into any logomachies over it – unless you want to, of course.

Examples of use:
They got into quite the heated logomachy.
Her favourite thing to do is engage in logomachy.

It will eventually be settled, after many late-night logomachies.
Logomachies are common in literary circles.

Etymology: Mid 16th century. From Greek logomakhia, from ‘logos’ (word) + ‘makhia’ (fighting).

Word of the day: Velleity

(n.)  /vɛˈliːɪti/

Velleity is a perfect word to describe a wish or inclination which is not quite strong enough to actively pursue or lead a person to action. It can describe an idle wish or passing idea, as well. The plural is ‘velleities.’

Examples of use:
The idea was intriguing, but it remained a velleity.
Their head is full of velleities, but no real plans.

Etymology: Early 17th century. From Medieval Latin ‘velleitas’, from Latin ‘velle’ (to wish).

Word of the day: Blatherskite

(n.) /ˈblaðəskʌɪt/

We all know at least one of these, I think. Blatherskite is a charming word to describe a person who talks excessively but says little that makes sense. It can also be used as a mass noun to describe nonsense or talk without substance.

Examples of use:
That blatherskites in the café were annoying, yet somewhat entertaining.
Every time I post something, one of those trolling blatherskites chimes in.

He keeps trying to impress people, but he is just full of blatherskite.
Politicians have a tendency towards obfuscating blatherskite.

Etymology: Mid 17th century. From Scottish ‘blather’ (to talk excessively without sense) + ‘skate’ (denoting a person regarded with contempt).

The abuses of ‘literally,’ and how nice thoughts can help.

Normally, I am more of a descriptive linguist than a prescriptive one. Language, after all, is a living dynamic thing that is constantly in use and being changed by its speakers. New words get picked up, old words are forgotten, and over the years, many meanings drift into something else entirely. Occasionally, however, I want to put my prescriptivist foot down in the name of clarity.

The goal of language is to communicate ideas as clearly as possible, which makes the hazards of generic words or multiple meanings all the more challenging. Recently, The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has accepted the new popular meaning of ‘literally’, which is literally the opposite of the actual definition. This is unfortunate, since it pretty much renders the word useless and condemns it to join the generic emphasis ranks with ‘very’ and ‘really.’

Literally

Words do change over time, and this one may have literally drifted too far to be useful in its older context. It’s sad, because it is such a good word, and has a wealth of nuances and connotations, particularly in its complete rejection of figurative interpretation, which none of its synonyms quite capture. That said, this is English, and if we need a word with a particular meaning, we’ll probably just steal it from somewhere else.

Whenever I get annoyed by changing word usage, I try to remind myself of two things: How much that word has probably changed before I first heard it, and ‘nice.’ I’ll get to ‘nice’ in a moment.

‘Literal’ has a fairly straightforward etymology, considering how long it’s been with us. We got ‘letter’ from Old French in the 13th century, from which we eventually derived literal and literature (Late Middle English), then alliteration in the early 17th century. The French got it from the Latin ‘littera’ which meant either a written communication or an alphabetic symbol, and both meanings got carried through to English. The Latin ‘litteralis’ also tagged along, meaning ‘of a letter,’ which contributed more directly to the derivation of ‘literal’ or literally.’

In essence, the word literally hasn’t changed much until recently, so on we go to ‘nice.’ Here’s a word with a more interesting drift of meanings. It started out as two words in Latin, ‘ne-’ (not) and ‘scire’ (know), which gave rise to ‘nescire’ meaning to not know, or to be ignorant. This gave us the word ‘nescience,’ which we still have in English as an adjective meaning ignorance or lack of knowledge, but that didn’t get added until the early 17th century. Here’s where it gets interesting.

Nescience

Middle English picked up ‘nice’ from Old French around the 14th century with the meaning of ‘simple or silly,’ and it rapidly picked up connotations of wanton and foolish. This can be seen in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost, where he speaks of ‘nice wenches,’ meaning disreputable women. It developed a range of largely negative senses, from ‘dissolute’, ‘ostentatious, showy’, ‘unmanly, cowardly’, and ‘delicate, fragile’ to ‘strange, rare’, and ‘coy, reserved.’ Around the 16th century, it started to be used in a more positive sense, as ‘fine, subtle or precise,’ as in “a nice distinction.” Then it gently tumbled into ‘pleasant, kind,’ from the mid 18th century on.

So if a word can go through that impressive a range of meanings and connotations without bothering us, I suppose I can put my prescriptive stomping-shoe back in the closet. I’ll just hunt down a new word that I can use instead of literally going crazy. Isn’t that nice?