Challenging Word of the WeeK: laconism



I haven’t done one of these words of the week for awhile, but the popularity of the movie 300 reminded me that I never included one of my favorite entries from the book 1000 Most Challenging Words:




Laconism

(LAK uh niz um) noun



Or laconicism (luh KON uh siz um) We are more familiar with the adjective laconic (luh KON ik) than the noun laconism, a concise style of language, brevity; also applied to a short, pithy statement. Laconia was long ago a country in the southern Greece, with Sparta as its capital. The Spartans were concise, brusque, and pithy in their speech, hence laconic, under which entry in this author’s 1000 Most Important Words we read: “Philip of Macedonia wrote to the Spartan officials: ‘If I enter Laconia, I will level Sparta to the ground.’ Their answer: ‘If.’ Caesar’s famous ‘Veni, vidi, vici’ (‘I came, I saw, I conquered’) is a famous example of laconic speech — not a word wasted.” When General Sir Charles Napier (1782-1855) finally completed the conquest of Sind, a province of India, the story goes, he cabled the War Office one word: “Peccavi” (Latin for “I have sinned”). Quite a laconism, and quite a paronomasia in the bargain, even though the cable is generally believed to be apocryphal. And finally, the message radioed by an American pilot in World War II: “Sighted sub, sank same,” an alliterative laconism.



My example: Don Imus might wish he had spent more time working on his laconisms.





From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.

Challenging Word of the Week: billingsgate

Billingsgate (BIL ingz gate)
noun

Billingsgate is foul and abusive language, coarse invective. The word comes from Billingsgate, London, for hundreds of years the site and name of a fish market where fish sellers and porters were notorious for their foul, coarse language. The market was near a gate in the old city wall named after a property owner, Billings. To talk billingsgate (sometimes capitalized) is to indulge in vituperation and vilification. The women who worked there were particularly offensive; from the Middle English fisshwyf we get fishwife, a term applied to coarse, vituperative, foul-tongued women who belie the traditional gentility of their sex. These lines appear in The Plain Dealer, a play by the English poet and dramatist William Wycherley (c. 1640-1716):

QUAINT: With sharp invectives—
WIDOW: Alias, Billingsgate.

My example: Rosie O’Donnell’s billingsgate tendencies have been on view since she joined “The View.”

From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.

Challenging Word of the Week: abjure

Abjure
(ab JOOHR) verb

To abjure something is to renounce it, retract, repudiate, forswear it. Abjure comes from the Latin verb abjurare (to deny under oath); abjuration from Late Latin abjuratio (recantation); both are based on ab- (away) plus jurare (to swear). Reformed sinners abjure the errors of their ways. A number of American communists abjured their allegiance to the Communist Party and informed on their former colleagues. The noun abjuration (abjoo RAY shuhn) implies renunciation upon oath, or at least some measure of solemnity and formality, something more than a mere change of mind. Born-again Christians abjure their former unbelief. The English poet John Donne (1572-1631) wrote:

The heavens rejoice in moiion, why should I
Abjure my so much loved variety

In Paradise Lost, the English poet John Milton (1608-1674) says:

I waked To find her, or for ever to deplore
Her loss, and other pleasures all abjure.

My example: The Minnesota Twins abjured the lousy baseball they played in April and June and came back to win the American League Central Division title on the last day of the season.

From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.

Challenging Word of the Week: verjuice

Verjuice
(VUR joos) noun

Verjuice, literally, is the sour juice of unripe fruits, especially crabapples and grapes. Figuratively, verjuice is sourness of temperament, disposition, or expression. It is the hallmark of a curmudgeon, itself an interesting word, generally described in dictionaries as of unknown origin though Samuel Johnson (the English lexicographer, 1709-1784) says in his Dictionary: “It is a vitious [the old spelling, based on Latin vitiosus] manner of pronouncing coeur méchant [ French for wicked heart ]. . .”

My example: Grapes of wrath make for vintage verjuice, don’t they, Mr. Reid?

From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.

Challenging Word of the Week: ukase



Ukase

(YOOH kase, yooh KAZE) noun



Originally, in imperial Russia, a ukase was an order or edict handed down by the Czar, which automatically acquired the force of law, but the term has now come to denote any preemptory proclamation issued by an absolute or arbitrary authority without right of appeal. The use of the term need not be confined to duly constituted government authorities. It can be said that certain party bosses never make suggestions or call for them; they simply hand out ukases. Hollywood moguls, old style, operated by ukase. We took the word from the French, who based it on Russian ukaz*.



My example: Bill Clinton and the leadership of the Democratic Party issued a ukase to Disney and ABC last week (see also this).



Is it really so surprising that the freedom-loving left — so admiring of the repressive regimes of Castro and Chavez and concerned that the rights of non-citizen terrorists are being infringed — can’t wait to apply the same techniques here at home? They can’t even wait to see if they’ll come into power first, because in their own minds they’ve never been out of power.



* From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.

Challenging Word of the WeeK: traduce

Traduce
(truh DOOHS, -DYOOHS) verb

To traduce someone is to slander him, vilify him, malign, defame, and calumniate him, speak falsely and with malice toward him or his character; from Latin traducere (to disgrace), a variant of transducere (literally, to carry over; figuratively, to expose, “show up”). In Shakespeare’s Othello (Act V, Scene 2), Othello cries to Lodovico who has come to arrest him:

…In Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and turban’d Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduc’d the State,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog
And smote him thus.

Whereupon, he obeys Shakespeare’s stage directions: Stabs himself. Things are tough all around and it’s a bloody mess; but getting back to words and definitions, avoid the common error of identifying slander or defame with libel. Without going into legal minutiae and ramifications, libel is slander in written form and “published”, i.e., communicated in that form to a third party or parties. Best advice: Keep your mouth shut and your pen in your pocket.

My example: In an election year, the end of summer means the weather is cooling just as the political traducing season is really heating up. That’s some good advice above, though.

From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.

Challenging Word of the WeeK: salmagundi

Salmagundi
(sal muh GUN dee) noun

This peculiar word describes, in its narrow sense, a dish, usually served as a salad, consisting of a mixture of chopped cooked meat, onions, hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, pickled vegetables, radishes, olives, watercress and other ingredients, with salad dressing, sometimes arranged in rows to form a color pattern. The term, however, is sometimes applied to a much simpler concoction: a meat and vegetable stew. It can also be spelt with a final -y instead of an -i.

Salmagundi has a much wider figurative application, as a term denoting any heterogeneous mixture or miscellany, and in this sense it is a synonym for gallimaufry or olio or hodge-podge, a medley, a potpourri, a mishmash, a farrago. A painting, for instance, or any work of art, for that matter, revealing a mixture of many influences may be referred to as a salmagundi or pastiche. There is a jocular saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. That would make the poor beast a sort of salmagundi of an animal — a little of this and a little of that. Any creation in which too many cooks have had a hand may sadly turn out to be a salmagundi. The word is derived from the French noun salmigondis, said to be based, in turn, on the Italian for “pickled salami,” known as salami conditti. Though it has nothing to do with the old nursery rhyme, the sound of salmagundi brings to mind the sad tale of

Solomon Grundy
Born on a Monday
Christened on Tuesday
Married on Wednesday
Took ill on Thursday
Worse on Friday
Died on Sunday
This is the end
of Solomon Grundy

and the end of salmagundi.

My example: The Minnesota Organization of Blogs (MOB) is a salmagundi of sagacity, savoir-faire and a bit of silliness.

From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.

Challenging Word of the Week: revanchism

Revanchism

(rih VAN shiz um) noun



Revanche, French for “revenge” has given rise to the noun revanchism, the policy of a nation seeking to regain territory lost to another nation, such as France’s attitude and policy towards Alsace and Lorraine, lost to Prussia after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The adjective describing the policy is revanchist (rih VAN shist). The revanchist attitude of the Arab states as to territory lost to Israel after the Six Day War of 1967 has played a prominent part in causing the turmoil of the Middle East.



My example: 20th century revanchism described nations seeking to regain territory in Europe and the Middle East. In the 21st century a cultural revanchism can be seen in the reconquista movement promoted by La Raza and others (perhaps nations?).



From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.

Challenging Word of the Week: quotidian



Quotidian

(kwoh TID ee un) adjective



Quotidian means “daily,” i.e., recurring every day, as in a quotidian report, and in that sense is synonymous with diurnal but only in the first meaning given under that entry, i.e., “daily,” as opposed to “daytime” used attributively. By extension, quotidian has acquired the second meaning of “everyday” in the sense of “ordinary, commonplace,” and in certain contexts, “trivial.” In this extension, it follows its Latin antecedent quotidianus (daily), which acquired the meaning “common, ordinary.” Things that go on day after day do become run-of-the-mill after a while. Variety is the spice, etc. The American poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), in The Comedian as the Letter C, wrote: “…the quotidian saps philosophers.”



My example: The best bloggers disprove Stevens, being both quotable and quotidian.



From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.

Challenging Word of the WeeK: pismire



Pismire

(PIS mire, PIZ-) noun



A pismire is an ant, but the term has been applied contemptuously to a despicable individual. Robert Penn Warren, the American poet and novelist (b. 1905), used it that way, “What do you think I’d do with a young pismire like you?” Shakespeare knew the word. In Henry IV, Part 1 (Act I, Scene 3), the impetuous young Harry Percy, known as Hotspur, cannot bear to hear the name of Bolingbroke:



Why, look you, I am whipped and scourged with rods, Nettled and stung with pismires, when I hear Of this vile politician, Bolingbroke.



In the same play (Act III, Scene 1) the same Hotspur uses the word ant. In reviling Mortimer’s father, he says:



…sometimes he angers me With telling me of the moldwarp (mole) and the ant…



In the earlier speech, the Bard obviously needed a two-syllable synonym for ant. Pismire is derived from Middle English pissemyre (a urinating ant, based on Middle English pisse, urinate, plus obsolete mire, ant). A pismire, then, is a urinating ant, i.e., an ant exuding formic acid.



My example: From my time living in more southerly parts of the country I am familiar with a colloquial version of this word: pisant, or pissant. The meaning is the same, however, as I always heard it used (or used it myself) to describe someone who is an irritating nuisance. I don’t think any of us knew we were borrowing from Shakespeare or thought in terms of having formic acid released upon us (irritating but not very damaging), but we definitely knew that to use the word was to describe someone who was an irritant completely out of proportion to his or her significance, kind of like ….



Well, I’ll leave the examples this week to you. If you’d like to supply the name of your pet pissant, do so in the comments or include the word and the individual in one of your posts and send me a link so I can see it.



From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.