The Words of March 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, except where noted)

3/7: Rutilant [ROOT-l-uhnt] (adjective) glowing or glittering with ruddy or golden light. Origin: Rutilant is from the Latin word rutilāns, meaning “having a reddish color or glow.” First Known Use: 15th century

3/10: Esculent [ES-kyuh-luhnt] (noun) something edible, especially a vegetable. Origin: Related to the word eat, esculent comes from the Latin word for food, esca. First Known Use: 1626

3/12: Remit [ri-MIT] (verb) to slacken or relax. Origin: Remit is derived from the Latin roots re- meaning “back” and mit meaning “send,” so it literally meant “to send back.” First Known Use: 14th century

3/13: Astringent [uh-STRIN-juhnt] (adjective) sharply incisive; pungent. Origin: Related to the words strain and string, astringent comes from the Latin root stringere which meant “to draw tight.” First Known Use: 1541

3/16: Gasser [GAS-er] (noun) something that is extraordinarily pleasing or successful, especially a very funny joke. Origin: Gasser is an Americanism that arose in the late 1800s. First Known Use: c. 1944.

3/21: Conniption [kuh-NIP-shuhn] (noun) a fit of hysterical excitement or anger. Origin: Conniption is actually an invented word. It first appeared in America in 1833 and may be related to the word corruption which was used in the sense of “anger” in the early 1800s. First Known Use: 1833

3/28: Luxate [LUHK-seyt] (verb) to put out of joint; dislocate. Origin: Luxate is not related to any word for “light.” Rather, it is from the Greek word for “oblique,” which was loxós. First Known Use: 1615-25 (Dictionary.com)

Rutilant has a nice sound to it, leading me to believe that its best use would be in reference to a beautiful red glow, i.e. sunrise/sunset. Those events also just happen to have enough magnificence about them to warrant the use of such an eloquent Latinate adjective. I’m not sure the word would be entirely out of place in reference to a blush, to give another example. But in most cases, it’s probably best to choose from among the other synonyms for “red,” of which there is an abundance.

Esculent, not surprisingly, also derives from Latin. In this case, though, I can’t think of an instance where this word is needed. Certainly, as with many Latin terms, it can be employed humorously through the mouth of an elitist or pseudo-elitist character. However, I have a suspicion that educated and intelligent audiences exist for which this word is completely unfamiliar. It’s not funny if you have to look the word up. Nevertheless, there’s the word, and it does have the distinction of working both as a noun and an adjective.

Remit is simultaneously the oldest word in this bunch, possibly the most familiar, and the one with the most varied meanings. The definition above, “to slacken or relax,” has many applications; Merriam-Webster lists the following: attention, diligence, guilt, penalty, tax, suffering. Remit can also mean to stop some activity, to send money in payment for something, to postpone something, or to restore something to its former status. With one exception, each of those meanings conveys the act of switching course or stepping back from something. As for the sending of money, the Online Etymology Dictionary has the word used in that sense starting in the 1630s. Naturally, the idea is that the money is “sent back” in return for goods or services — a trade. The word remit is probably best used in the following two contexts: financial and theological (i.e. remission of sins). Still, its long history has given rise to a whole range of uses.

Astringent has literal applications in the fields of medicine and cosmetics, for a treatment that constricts to prevent discharges. The act of cutting off a flow is the reason for the word’s newer, metaphorical meaning. Now it can be used in reference to comments or criticism that have a caustic, severe quality. The sound of the word is very appropriate to this meaning; the way it rises in the middle (RIN-juh) conveys sharp discomfort. This is a very good word that has the misfortune of being the fourth consecutive Latinate term in this group. I know they all start to sound the same, so I’ll emphasize that this is my favorite word of all seven.

But again, the thing about Latin words is that they have a tendency to stick around. Gasser, coined at some point in the last hundred-plus years, may not be totally extinct, but it’s definitely corny at best. The primary connotation for the word gas is not something “extraordinarily pleasing,” to say the least. Still, the term has more than a little historical interest as part of the tradition of American slang. As such, it would fit right in as part of the Urban Dictionary if that existed a hundred years ago.

The American Heritage Dictionary refers to conniption as “mock Latin.” In other words, it is likely an American invention that was meant to sound like it came from Latin. The Online Etymology Dictionary and Dictionary.com suggest “corruption” as a possible inspiration, and American Heritage mentions “snip” and “snap.” So although the year of the word’s first appearance is generally agreed upon, just who coined it and how are less clear. The word is often used in the phrase “conniption fit,” although that appears to be redundant. Unlike gasser, I don’t believe this word has lost much steam over the years, although it does have a quaint aspect to it.

To luxate is to dislocate a joint, or perhaps a tooth. I don’t see much flexibility in the use of this word; the literal meaning is pretty much it. Furthermore, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with the word “dislocate.” That word, in fact, can easily be used in less literal and yet evocative ways in addition to its literal meaning.

Part 2 — Urban Dictionary

3/7: Totes (adjective) [abbreviation] stands for totally. Definition contributed in 2005

3/10: Relationship material (noun) a status bestowed from one individual upon another exemplifying satisfaction anticipated from maintaining a relationship with that individual. This evaluation is highly subjective and typically reflects a great deal of personal preference. However, the term is usually used in situations where the relationship is not exclusively sexual (i.e., it is not used to describe a f*** buddy). Definition contributed in 2008

3/12: Malemployed (adjective) when what you do for a living makes you want to kill yourself. Definition contributed in 2010

3/13: Dental swag (noun) the complementary [sic] stuff with which you leave your dentist’s office: toothbrush, dental floss, etc. Definition contributed in 2011

3/16: Tranq (noun) 1. A sedative, or the act of sedating. 2. Any chemical substance used for calming a human or animal through injection or ingestion. Definition contributed in 2004

3/21: Associate’s walk (noun) when you approach an Associate in a Big Box Store and request directions to an item or a department, the Associate will “guide” you to the location, using a very specific walk style. They will walk in front of you and their pace is slowed down, similar to being the first car in a motorcade. Definition contributed in 2009

3/28: Glamping (noun) glamorous camping. Satisfying your craving for the outdoors and your penchant for a good meal, nice glass of wine, and a comfortable bed. Definition contributed in 2008

Totes is the kind of saccharine reduction that can pass from endearing to exasperating in the space of a short conversation. But it takes its place among the many new abbreviations to arise during the age of text messaging. And I guess I really don’t mind it all that much. “Totally” has been criminally overused for around thirty years now, and maybe we’ll abbreviate it into oblivion. That would be interesting.

Relationship material denotes a person willing to make a commitment to a faithful long-term relationship. While the definition given at Urban Dictionary (UD) rambles on and on, I think that’s the gist of it. In my limited experience with the term, I’ve seen it used pretty much exclusively in reference to men. That may be a stereotype, but it certainly has some factual basis. I think this phrase has some staying power; the meaning is clear, the word “material” lends a sense of careful evaluation, and the whole idea is one that speaks to current mores.

Malemployed may be the cleverest single word of these seven, presenting a third option distinct from “employed” and “unemployed.” The prefix mal-, of course, is negative, conveying something bad, abnormal or inadequate (Merriam-Webster). The play on words in the UD definition is cute, but not nearly as good as the word itself. Like many UD words, it hardly needs a definition anyway. This word seems to have been made for times when the economy is booming. Right now there are plenty of unemployed people who will take your job if you don’t want it.

Dental swag gave me the biggest chuckle of this month’s words. I always get a new toothbrush and new floss when I leave the dentist’s office. Thank you, dentist; it’s just nice not to have to think about those for awhile. Anyway, that’s really enough about that. This is a good opportunity to point out the difference between “complimentary” and “complementary.” The word used above means that the toothbrush somehow matches or completes something. “Complimentary,” on the other hand, means it’s free.

Tranq, in my opinion, is a much better abbreviation than totes, and my guess is that it’s been in use much longer. Notice how each abbreviation is five letters long, and yet tranq does away with three syllables and seven letters to totes‘s two and four. If math isn’t our standard here, we’re left with no standard at all, and the whole discussion becomes very depressing.

As an employee in retail, I must confess that I haven’t fully mastered the Associate’s walk yet. Luckily, I work in a small store, so the awkwardness inherent in waiting for the customer to catch up is minimal. The real trick is in respecting the customer’s right to be distracted by another item in the intervening space. Always goal-oriented, I don’t brook interruptions particularly well, but the best-case scenario would be for the customer to find what he/she was looking for and to get a feel for everything we have to offer. So the Associate’s walk is definitely a good skill to learn.

I find that glamping has reached into the mainstream more successfully than many UD words. It gets mentioned in the Wikipedia article on camping, and there are more than a few appropriate results to see in a Google Images search of the word. The extent of the glamor in those images varies somewhat. Perhaps a good rule of thumb would be that, if a full bed inside a tent is part of the experience, it qualifies as glamping. My, but there is a wealth of cognitive dissonance to this concept! But rich people can get away with many things. The term itself is another example of word-splicing, but I don’t think it works too well past the theoretical level. It sounds too much like “clamping.”

Whilst glamping last weekend, I lay on my bed and watched a rutilant sunset, but when I reached for some esculent, I found it horribly astringent. This sent me into a conniption, and I luxated my shoulder trying to hurl my recliner out of the tent. Finally I had to take a tranq to calm myself, at which point it was apparent that I was malemployed and needed to remit some personal issues if I’m ever to be relationship material again.

2 responses to “The Words of March 2012

  1. Pingback: The Words of May 2012 « infinitecrescendo·

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