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Robert Beard
Education, humor, language, words, politics
Education, humor, language, words, politics

Robert Beard's posts

• spizzerinctum •

Pronunciation: spi-zêr-'ringk-têm • Hear it at!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Vim, vigor, vitality. 2. A person full of vim, vigor, and vitality.

Notes: I grew up in North Carolina among people who regularly called rambunctious children "spizzerinctum". I never knew exactly what it meant, only that it was a joke, because my daddy always laughed when he called one of us "spizzerinctum". This word remains too silly to make it into regular dictionaries but again, it is a word that won't go away. Now the Internet has opened millions of new lines of communication across which it is spreading once again.

In Play: Although the meaning of this word remains hazy, it seems to come close to that of chutzpah: "Apparently, Minnie van Sayles had the spizzerinctum it takes to break all previous sales records down at Rex Motors." At the other end of this word's meaning range, it is closer to "guts": "Noam Knott simply doesn't have the spizzerinctum to ask Sue Persilius for her hand in marriage."

Word History: Like most silly words in English, the origin of today's is a mystery: the rules of silliness are ill at ease with the rules of etymology. It probably originated as a play on the word specie "money in coin", since its meaning was "money, wealth" rather than "vitality" when it emerged in the mid-1800s. Someone once suggested that it might have come from a facetious pseudo-Latin phrase species recta with the intended meaning "the right kind". If we assumed the original users clever enough to intend this phrase to mean "cash out the wazoo", I would be inclined to take the suggestion seriously. It is but a short semantic hop from wealth to vitality. However, we have no indication that this was the case, so the origin of this silly word must remain in the dark. (We thank John Wills today for having the spizzerinctum to suggest today's Good Word, despite the fact he couldn't find it in respectable dictionaries.)

• naif •

Pronunciation: nah-'if • Hear it at!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A naïve person, a complete innocent.

Notes: This word is one that I hear and read less often than I once encountered. It is the personal noun for a much more common adjective, naive. I even encounter the abstract noun for this adjective, naivete. If you want to make it more French, you may add an umlaut over the I: naïf.

In Play: We use this word when referring to total innocence: "Protestors for world peace are a bunch starry-eyed naifs that have no idea of political reality." We all know a naif or two: "Glenda is such a naif, she thinks Moby Dick is a social disease."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the masculine adjective corresponding to the feminine naïve in French. This word is a French makeover of Latin nativus "native, rustic, unspoiled". This word is based on natus "born", the past participle of nasci "to beget, to bear (a child)". This verb is the remains of an earlier gnasci with the same meaning. Latin also had a word gignere with the same meaning. Both were Latin renditions of PIE gene- "to give birth to, to beget". Latin also preserved the original PIE root in a host of words from which English borrowed heavily: generatio(n) "begetting", generator "begetter, producer", genesis "birth", genialis "genial", genitalis "of birth, fruitful, generative", to mention but a few. (Now let's thank George Kovac of the great state of Florida, who couldn't be farther from a naif, for suggesting today's fascinating Good Word.)

• morology •

Pronunciation: mê-'rah-lê-jee • Hear it at!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Foolish or silly talk, nonsense. 2. The scientific study of silly talk. (?)

Notes: The -ology suffix on this word is misleading, since there is no scientific study of morons, the usual meaning of that suffix. That would be moronic. So, morologist means "someone who talks foolishly" rather than a student of morons. The adjective would be morologic or morological.

In Play: If you need a touch of gravitas or 'scientificity' when you talk of nonsense, here's the word for you: "I couldn't make heads or tails out the president's morology at his press conference today, could you?" You may find uses around the house, too: "Mom, all your reasons for grounding me are sheer morology, not logic."

Word History: Today's Good Word was taken from Middle French morologie, inherited from post-classical Latin morologia "foolish talking", which borrowed it from ancient Greek morologia "foolish talking". The Greek word was based on morologos "that talks foolishly", made up of moros "foolish, stupid" + -logos "word, idea". The neuter of Greek moros was moron, which was also used as a noun meaning "folly", a word English hungrily gobbled up. The word is not used to denote a person in Greek because the neuter usually represents inanimate categories. Moros is a cognate of Sanskrit murah "idiotic". Latin morus "foolish" is a loan-word from Greek.

• stygian •

Pronunciation: 'sti-ji-ên • Hear it at!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. (Capitalized) Related to the river Styx of Greek mythology. 2. Gloomy, dark, black as the Styx. 3. (Agreements) Solid, extremely binding.

Notes: A stygian oath or agreement are both iron-clad, because the Greek gods always swore by the goddess of the river, also named Styx. Although this adjective is seldom used today, it does appear occasionally in published writings, and begs for wider use.

In Play: The waters of the Styx were black, lending the name of the river to that color: "The stygian night made torches essential." "Black" in both literal and figurative senses: "Izzy Badenov has a stygian heart that would allow him to stab his grandmother and take bets on which way she would fall."

Word History: English patterned its word after Latin Stygius "related to the Styx", from Greek Stygios, from Styx (genitive Stygos), the name of a mythological river that divides the underworld (Greek Hades) from the Earth in Greek mythology. The name comes from Greek stygos "hatred, loathing" or stygnos "gloomy, hateful", the adjective for the verb stygein "to hate, loathe, fear". Greek inherited the word from Proto-Indo-European (s)teu- "to strike, knock, beat" with a Fickle S. With the S and with a -g suffix it emerged as Greek stygios and Styx. In English this variant emerged as stoke and in German it came up as stauchen "to ram, to upset" and stuka "bomber". ('Twould be a stygian oversight to forget an expression of gratitude for Rob Towart, a long-time contributor of ideas who suggested today's fascinating Good Word.)

• fetor •

Pronunciation: 'fee-têr • Hear it at!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A stench, an unpleasant or offensive odor.

Notes: You may correctly chide anyone you see spell this word foetor; the only correct spelling is fetor. This word is the noun from the adjective fetid "smelly, stinky", which may be used as an adverb, fetidly, should you ever need a word meaning "stinkily".

In Play: Sometimes we need a word meaning "stench" that is a bit more elevated, subtle: "Binky, what is the origin of the fetor emanating from your room?" It is more applicable to the discussion of elevated offices when used figuratively: "It may take some time for the fetor to dissipate from the Illinois governor's office, now that he is in jail."

Word History: Many dictionaries list foetor as an acceptable alternate spelling of today's Good Word. The Oxford English Dictionary, however, makes it clear that this is incorrect. It probably results from a confusion of this word and its adjective, fetid, with foetus, widely used in the United Kingdom. But these two words have nothing to do with each other; their similarity is purely coincidental. Fetus comes from a root meaning "to give birth, to grow" and meant "offspring" in Latin. The OE spelling was old even in Latin; by the classical period even this word was spelled with a simple E. (We wouldn't want to raise a fetor here by forgetting to thank Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira, one of the long-time editors of this series, for today's Good Word suggestion; so let me say a double "thank you" right here.)

• jehu •

Pronunciation: 'jee-hu • Hear it at!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (Capitalized) A king of Israel in the 9th century BC, described as a furious charioteer. 2. A reckless driver of any vehicle. 3. A cab or coach driver, or a chauffeur, especially an aggressive one.

Notes: Today's Good Word is not to be confused with yahoo, the race of bestial people in Swift's Gulliver's Travels or the popular search engine on the Web. Today's word has no relatives in English, though it may be used as a verb.

In Play: Jehus may be drivers or chauffeurs, but the term is used most often in reference to dare-devil driving off the track: "Clarence, don't drive like a jehu! This is a funeral procession, after all." Since this term is relatively rare in the US, the metaphorical possibilities have hardly been explored: "Some jehu out there on the information highway hacked my website last night." We hope you never meet a jehu on life's highway.

Word History: A commonization of the proper name Jehu from 2 Kings 9:20 "The lookout reported, 'He has reached them, but he isn't coming back either. The driving is like that of Jehu, son of Nimshi—he drives like a madman.'" Jehu drove a one horsepower chariot, so the meaning of this word has drifted far from the horsepower-crazed jehus on the freeways today. We may then say that Jehu, son of Nimshi, is the eponym of today's word. Since it is now a common noun, we may write it with a small letter, even though most dictionaries still capitalize it. (We thank Whitney Schauer of Eau Claire, Wisconsin for suggesting today's word and wish him jehu-free driving wherever he goes.)

• forgo •

Pronunciation: for-'go • Hear it at!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: To go without, to refrain from, to deny oneself.

Notes: Forgo should be the correct spelling of this word, but forego is now also accepted. Since the prefix on forego is more closely associated with the sense before, this verb's meaning should be restricted to "go before, precede", a meaning it does sometimes bear. The prefix for-, on the other hand, was used in Old English to create verbs with a sense of exclusion or loss, such as forbid, forget, forsake, and forfeit. Thus, it fits the meaning of today's word better. Forgo conjugates in the same way as its parent go, so we have forgoes, forgoing, forgone and forwent in the past tense. Someone who forgoes something is a forgoer.

In Play: Any act of self-denial, from the self-serving to the selfless, can occasion the use of today's word: "I think I'll forgo the hors d'oeuvres; I just glimpsed the dessert trolley." It does, however, seem to arise frequently when food is at stake, "As ever, Marvin forewent the haggis during its traditional arrival in the dining room. But he could not forgo a taste of it afterwards."

Word History: Old English for- can be traced to a Germanic root fer- of similar meaning. Beyond that, we can detect the fertile Proto-Indo-European root per "forward, through", which as usual changed its initial [p] to an [f] on entering the Germanic languages, where it also gave rise to far, forth, further, fro, first and our old friend fore-, among others. In passing through other languages, per has provided us with the prefixes proto-, para-, and peri- and words as varied as paradise, perestroika, prince and prow. Go comes from PIE ghe-, also responsible for gait, gate and the gang of gangway. (We shouldn't forgo an expression of our gratitude to Grant Hutchison of Dundee, Scotland, for suggesting today's often overlooked Good Word.)

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

• Obama was wise, Trump is inept •

Someone rather smart once said, “The only thing that never changes is change
itself.” Now, changes range from better to worse. Better change we call “progress.” Worse change is regression and means we have to go back someday and repair the damage it does.

Progressives attempt to make changes for the better — a good definition of “progress.” Conservatives hope to conserve the good things in the present as we progress. A good balance. But reactionaries, like the Tea Partiers, Freedom Caucus, or whatever they are calling themselves this year, want to move us
back to “the good old days” which, of course, were far worse than today.

Trump came to power on promises to make big changes in Washington, to make
America great again. On the face of it, he has kept that promise. But are his changes for better or worse? Let’s compare Trump’s “different” solution to a nonexistent problem, the Muslim threat to America, with President Obama’s solution to a real one, the Ebola outbreak.

Ebola actually attacked the U.S., and, sadly, a few Americans died from this disease. The threat of its spread was real. Republicans, including Congressmen Tom Marino and Lou Barletta, demanded that President Obama ban all flights from the West African nations affected by the disease. Let’s just deal with the spread of the disease from those victims already in the U.S. After all, who cares about Africa?

Obama ignored this simplistic Republican notion and came up with a more complex, a more intelligent and compassionate solution. He organized all relevant departments of the U.S. government — CDC, DoD, NIH, USAID — and sent field hospitals and personnel to those African nations where the disease first emerged. This set of actions wiped out the disease at its source. He not only protected the American population, but by wiping out the virus completely, he made the West African nations, and all other nations on the planet, safe from it.

Trump, on the other hand, the man who promised America change, went back to the same old Republican solution for his fake problem: banning people from entering the U.S. He responded to the threat of ISIL by banning all Muslims from six (originally seven) countries from entering the U.S. Syrians, who are suffering the most, are banned permanently by the executive order. Trump’s executive order has been rewritten three times now, because it keeps failing the
constitutional test of the courts.

Trump’s changes clearly only make things worse. Trump brought Republicans control of the entire Congress and administration, yet he is a Republican in name only. Since he knows nothing of politics, he must defer to the party he nominally belongs to. Republicans are trying the same thoroughly debunked ideas over and over to take the U.S. back in time: deregulation, “trickle down”
economics, and banning all people from problem countries from entering the U.S. The Republicans’ health care plan does the reverse of Robin Hood: it takes Medicaid from the poor and gives the money saved thereby to the rich in the form of tax breaks.

I see now why one of their policies is to undo the American education system: they never learn.

Robert Beard
Professor Emeritus
Russian and Linguistics programs
Bucknell University

• suffuse •

Pronunciation: sê-'fyuz • Hear it at!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: To spread throughout or all over, to permeate or infuse thoroughly.

Notes: English contains several words with the root -fuse with similar meanings. Today's word has a near synonym in perfuse "to pour all over or throughout. Effuse means "to pour forth, usually profusely", as blood from a serious wound or good spirits from a happy person. Infuse is to pour into. The noun for today's word is suffusion, and the adjective is suffusive "tending to suffuse", as 'a suffusive sense of happiness at the arrival of summer'.

In Play: In "Desire under the Elms", Eugene O'Neill sets this scene: "The sky above the roof is suffused with deep colors, the green of the elms glows, but the house is in shadow, seeming pale and washed out by contrast." Suffusion can be a bad thing: "The soil was suffused with so much mercury that nothing could be built on it." It can just as well be good, "Her every word was suffused with warmth and understanding."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a touch-up of Latin suffusus, the past participle of suffundere "to pour under", consisting of sub- "under" + fundere "to pour". The Proto-Indo-European root was gheus- "pour", but initial [gh] became [f] in Latin, and the root was subject to a Fickle N flitting in and out of it. The root appeared without the [n] in Germanic words such as English gut from Old English guttas "intestines" and gust, from Old Norse gustr "a gush of cold air". Gush, too, comes from the same source, and the name of the watery gusher, geyser, was borrowed from an Old Norse relative geysa "to gush". (Forgive us if we gush effusively with gratitude to Lyn Laboriel for suggesting today's Good Word.)

• frolic •

Pronunciation: 'frah-lik • Hear it at!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: To make merry, to gambol, to romp or caper about worry-free.

Notes: Don't forget to add the [k] to today's word when extending it with suffixes like frolicker, frolicked, or frolicking (compare: traffic : trafficker, picnic : picnicker). A person in the mood to frolic is frolicsome. I hope you know lots of frolicsome people.

In Play: Like gambol, today's word is usually associated with children and animals: "Serafina and Giorgio sat on the porch, watching the children and squirrels frolicking together on the front lawn." Of course, it may be used figuratively to simply refer to a mirthful time, "I heard that Phil Anders and Emma Chisit frolicked the weekend away in Las Vegas."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Dutch vrolijk "merry", made up of Middle Dutch vro "happy" + -lijk "-ly, like", akin to German fröhlich "happy." The suffix here is related to the Old English ancestor of like, which reduced itself to -ly in Modern English. However, like is now making a comeback in such words as lady-like, bell-like, fern-like. These words are currently compound nouns comprising some word plus the regular word, like, but 300 years from now like will again reduce to an affix, either merging with the current suffix -ly or assuming a similar form.
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