The Words of February 2012

Fourteen “Words of the Day” from the last month.

Part 1 — Dictionary.com (Definitions and Origins. Date of First Known Use in English Taken from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

2/7: Crib [krib] (verb) to pilfer or steal, especially to plagiarize. Origin: Crib comes from the German word krebe which meant basket. Its alternate sense meaning “to steal” arose in the 1600s and leant itself to the current sense of “to plagiarize.” First Known Use: 1605

2/9: Screed [screed] (noun) a long discourse or essay, especially a diatribe. Origin: Screed is related to the Old English word for shred. Its alternate sense of a long speech was first recorded in 1789 and may be related to the sense of the word meaning a long list of names. First Known Use: c. 1789

2/15: Vilipend [vil-UH-pend] (verb) to regard or treat as of little value or account. Origin: Vilipend is derived from the Old French roots vīli meaning vile and pendere meaning to consider, also the root of pensive. First Known Use: 15th century

2/17: Tramontane [truh-MON-teyn] (adjective) being or situated beyond the mountains. Origin: Tramontane comes from the Latin root trānsmontānus which meant beyond the mountains. It is made of three roots: mont meaning mountain, trans meaning over, and -an, a suffix denoting “coming from.” First Known Use: 1596

2/21: Bespeak [bih-SPEEK] (verb) to show; indicate. Origin: Bespeak is derived from the Old English word besprecan. It developed a wide range of meanings, such as request, discuss, or arrange. First Known Use: 1533

2/22: Ad rem [ad REM] (adverb) without digressing; in a straightforward manner. Origin: Ad rem is a useful Latin phrase that literally means “at thing” from the roots ad and rēs. First Known Use: 1599

2/24: Adamantine [ad-uh-MAN-teen] (adjective) utterly unyielding or firm in attitude or opinion. Origin: Related to adamant, adamantine comes from the Greek word adamántinos, a combination of the word adamant and the suffix -ine which means “of or pertaining to.” First Known Use: 13th century

It’s not entirely clear how the word crib came to be used as a verb for “to steal.” The Word Detective says that it was the use of the word for “basket” that directly led to this development, suggesting that perhaps the image is of stolen items being stowed in baskets. However it came about, the word is primarily used today as a synonym for “plagiarize” — and a crisp, monosyllabic one at that. The brusqueness of the word reduces plagiarism to a petty crime, which is fitting.

Screed is a wonderfully evocative term. The fact that it calls to mind the word “screech” may not be entirely appropriate, but it’s not completely on the wrong track. I find it difficult to think of this word as anything but a negative critique of its subject, although both Dictionary.com and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary leave room for neutral readings. Context, as always, will settle the matter, but I think this word finds its best use as humorous condemnation.

Vilipend has a nice sound to it, but it feels esoteric. There are a number of suitable alternatives, including quite a few that start with the letter “D” (“defame,” “denigrate,” “denounce,” “disparage”). “Disparage” is probably the best choice.

Tramontane has an unusual predicament. I find it just as esoteric as vilipend, but synonyms are not forthcoming. Another term, “transalpine,” means essentially the same thing. Both originated in Italy and thus refer to things on the far (north) side of the Alps. That doesn’t mean the words can’t refer to any other mountains, and context might render these words easily understood. The risk is to cause the reader to break concentration to focus on the funny word. For me, I don’t think it’s worth that risk when three words aren’t so very many more than one (“past the mountains,” “beyond the mountains”).

Bespeak is a fascinating word due to its range of possible meanings. The Online Etymology Dictionary has its original use as “to call out.” As mentioned above, it now can mean 1) to show or indicate, 2) request, 3) discuss or 4) arrange, and also 5) to hire, engage or claim beforehand, 6) address with formality or 7) foretell (last three taken from Merriam-Webster). This word does have a bit of a pretentious air, albeit nothing compared to the previous two words this month. I think the best use of bespeak is as a synonym for “indicate.” There’s really nothing wrong with the words “request,” “discuss,” etc. But bespeak might have some claim to being used in place of “show” and “indicate.”

Ad rem, being Latin, calls to mind philosophy and law. In law, the phrase jus ad rem refers to an incomplete right to something, a right without full possession. By itself, though, ad rem simply means “to the point” and “straightforward.” It has the virtue of constituting fewer syllables than either of those definitions and is thus, quite literally, more appropriate. But Latin, as a dead language, has limited use. It might be suggested that the most straightforward thing would be to ditch the adverb altogether, depending on the situation.

Like many words, adamant or adamantine originated with a concrete meaning and later became a metaphor. At first, it referred to unbreakable rocks, particularly diamonds. Since then, the word has been used as an image for a person who has hardened in spirit to the point of being impenetrable and unyielding. The Online Etymology Dictionary says that adamant, used as a noun, was “the name of a hypothetical hardest material,” which is to say, one harder than a diamond and absolutely unbreakable. The second definition under the noun form of adamant on Dictionary.com calls it a “legendary stone.” It is almost certainly this sense of the term that led to the coinage of “adamantium” in the Marvel Comics universe, a fictional metal most famous for covering the skeleton of the mutant Wolverine. All comic book geekery aside, though, adamantine is an appropriately strong word for its meaning, one that conveys resolution and integrity more than mere stubbornness. It’s easily my favorite word of these seven.

Part 2 — Urban Dictionary (NOTE: Light scatological humor)

2/7: I tell you what (phrase) by the use of this phrase to open or close a statement, the user acquires or asserts a pleasant, folksy authority. Sometimes paired with “boy” for added authority and folksiness. Frequent famous users include Cris Collinsworth and Hank Hill. Definition contributed in 2012

2/9: Somebody’s girl syndrome (noun) when a really hot chick has trouble getting dates because guys all assume she already has a boyfriend and are scared to approach her. Inspired by the Jackson Browne song “Somebody’s Baby.” Definition contributed in 2010

2/15: Let me know how that works out for you (sentence) the easiest way to end an argument when your opponent relays their intentions to do something that you do not agree with. Definition contributed in 2012

2/17: Grammatically challanged [sic] (adjective) someone who uses terrible punctuation and couldn’t spell if their [sic] life depended on it. You are either grammatically challanged by nature, or you have been exposed to txt talkers too long. Definition contributed in 2004

2/21: Powerstreaming (noun) watching several episodes of a TV show in a row, usually from an online streaming service. This can be done over several evenings, or a marathon weekend. Definition contributed in 2012

2/22: Carthritis (noun) condition suffered by a car, where seemingly painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints can cause groaning in parts of the car that normally make no noise. Definition contributed in 2009

2/24: Malapoopism (noun) an act or habit of misusing words ridiculously, especially by the confusion of words that illustrate that you are full of crap. Definition contributed in 2007

Regarding content, I tell you what is an entirely redundant phrase. Certainly it should only be used in speech. But this is what makes the Urban Dictionary’s definition interesting. Using the phrase does alter the tenor of what’s being said — most likely as a form of verbal punctuation, driving home the point with some forcefulness. Not too much forcefulness, though — I tell you what is also a way of gently introducing the listener to whatever declarative statement is to follow. Like any “folksy” slang, it runs the risk of being overused ad nauseum. But used sparingly, it’s a nice addition to conversation. Using redundant words implies the speaker doesn’t feel rushed, I suppose.

I haven’t ever knowingly encountered a case of somebody’s girl syndrome, but I guess that’s the idea. “Somebody’s Baby” was a successful song for Jackson Browne back in 1982, so maybe there is some truth to the notion. In any case, there would have been more truth to it in 1982 than today, what with Facebook relationship statuses and all. As Facebook proceeds to take over the world, we can have hopes of this syndrome being eradicated.

Let me know how that works out for you is a nice, slightly passive-aggressive put-down. The clear implication is that “that” will not work out very well, but the speaker invites the listener to go ahead and try if the listener’s heart is set on doing something stupid. So there’s definitely a note of resignation, of refusing to argue in circles anymore. But it needn’t come at the end of a long discussion. As an immediate response to some bad idea or other, it’s a succinct way of moving on to another topic while shooting the idea down.

To be diplomatic, I’ll suggest that the misspelling of grammatically challanged is a joke. It probably is, anyway. But as a purely visual joke, it would pretty much die in the context of any written work. So on the other hand, it may just be Urban Dictionary users being hilariously inconsistent. Either way, the joke is short-lived, and that’s fine. I’m pretty tired of all the incarnations of “[insert adverb] challenged.” As a euphemism, it’s just about always been intended as funny, but the humor has long since worn off. So you prefer to think of yourself as imaginatively challenged? Let me know how that works out for you.

The idea behind powerstreaming didn’t originate with streaming technology, of course. DVD box sets of TV shows have always allowed the viewer to plow through a series quickly. In fact, I think the whole idea, both for DVDs and streaming services, is to do just that. If someone wants to watch a series more gradually, television itself still exists (with assistance, if needed, from DVR). So the word may be unnecessary. Saying that you’re going to be streaming such-and-such this weekend would probably communicate enough.

Carthritis is a cute example of anthropomorphism, used on one of the most anthropomorphized tools we have: the car. Of the words/phrases with which I was not previously familiar, this is clearly the best. It exemplifies Urban Dictionary’s signature blending of words. Sure, the facile word formation that created carthritis won’t give the word any longevity, but Urban Dictionary is of-the-moment. Coining new words for which the definition is not immediately obvious takes some time and effort. Carthritis has the advantage of both being easily understood and creating empathy for its subject.

Malapoopism is a somewhat confused metaphor. The idiom cited in the definition, “full of crap,” is a euphemism for “full of shit” — a euphemism that is still considered quite rude. I haven’t come across “full of poop” as a further bowdlerization. Regardless, the excrement is not to be taken literally. A “malapropism” is an act of misspeaking out of ignorance, with contextual humor based on the incongruity of the word used incorrectly. If the speaker consciously uses malapropisms, then humor is the goal. But by definition, a person cannot knowingly make a malapoopism. By accidentally doing so, the person illustrates complete ignorance of whatever it is he or she is talking about. So it would have to be a habit, not simply a single instance of using the wrong word. This word isn’t the best Urban Dictionary coinage I’ve come across, but it gives me an opportunity to bring up the word “malapropism,” so it’s not all bad. “Malapropism” is derived from the character Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Sheridan’s play The Rivals. Not unlike the term milquetoast, discussed in a previous post here, “malapropism” is an instance where a writer’s work enters the popular consciousness, even if only for a single word.

I tell you what, that grammatically challanged fool’s screed was littered with malapoopisms, bespeaking just how insufferable he is. My response vilipended him ad rem, expressing my adamantine refusal to hear anything more: “Let me know how that works out for you.”

One response to “The Words of February 2012

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