aspersion (a SPER zhun) noun 1. Slander, a calumnious report or remark. 2. The act of defaming or slandering.
How often have you heard anyone protest about someone "casting aspersions on their character"? Why is it aspersions always seem to be cast? Can they also be tossed, thrown, lobbed, floated or distributed in some other way? Is this casting like casting a shadow or casting for fish with a rod and reel? And why does it seem always to be plural, aspersions, rather than just one aspersion?
Actually there is a reason, but it goes to another meaning of the word. Which is: aspersion, n. 3. A sprinkling: especially, a baptism by sprinkling.
This means you can have an aspersion (sprinkling, casting) of aspersions (slanders, defamations) against someone's character. They just naturally go together, sort-of. I'm sure that's all crystal clear as mud. Though I rather imagine the reader would also like to know what calumnious means. I'll get to that some other time.
The Nazis gave propaganda a bad name.
I imagine many people will think that statement is a joke, but it's not. Consider, the Third Reich itself called it the Propaganda Ministry. They wouldn't have called it that if propaganda implied misinformation and lies as it does to many today. Here's what it really means:
propaganda (pro pa GAN da) noun Speech intended to convince.
Then Goebbels got hold of it and its never been the same. Now folks infer it being something like...
sophistry (SOF is tree) noun A plausible but misleading or fallacious argument.
By the original definition advertising and political speech is propaganda, and so is a sunday sermon. Honesty and accuracy had nothing to do with it. It's a shame because now we have two words people use for sophistry and nothing for what propaganda really means.
If only they'd have called it the Sophistry Ministry to begin with. Ironically, the Nazis were more forthright in calling it propaganda rather than the euphemistic terms used today, such as the Information Ministry, public relations, or press secretary.
wise (waez) adj. 1.having wisdom. 2. knowing, informed.
I don't think I've introduced the reader to a new word here, far from it. However it is interesting how a word can have more than one definition and, depending which definition the reader infers, it can change a sentence's meaning. Here's what I mean:
"Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."
If you use definition 1 it's saying "Where it's folly to have wisdom..." On the other hand, definition 2 means something else altogether, "Where it's folly to be informed..." It's the second meaning Gray is using. What we have is the literary version of plausible deniability. Or possibly something in the way Jack Nicholson is often imitated for saying, "You can't handle the truth!"
You can also see that having the full quote, rather than the usual truncated, "ignorance is bliss", makes a big difference as well. I rather imagine the Sir Thomas would agree with Dean Wormer from Animal House, "Son, fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life."
sisypheon (sis e FEE en) adj. Caught up in an endless, hopeless, frustrating endeavor or task; futile. -- From the Greek myth of Sisyphus who was condemned to forever roll a boulder up a mountain which slipped back to the bottom just before reaching the summit.
This is a word all you bloggers out there can especially relate to.
sesquipedalian (SES kwi pe DAY lee-en) adj. 1. Long and ponderous; polysyllabic. 2. Given to using long words. (From Latin sesquipedalis, of a foot and a half in length.)
This is something of a self parody, a long word meaning using long words. Can you use it in a sentence? How about, "Sesquipedalian circumlocution concomitant with euphemistic malapropism obfuscates ineluctably." There's a mouthful of gobbledegook. Does it make me sound smart or pretentious using all those twenty dollar words? Not for me to say. But I did write "using" and not the more sesquipedalian "utilizing."
largess (lahr JES) noun 1. a. Liberality in giving. b. The money or gifts bestowed. 2. A bounty, dole, or tip. 3. Generosity of attitude.
pun (pun) noun, A play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.
I tossed in two puns. Many people think a pun is the lowest form of humor. And a pun making fun of a naughty bit must be the lowest of the low. Still, I couldn't resist.
Some remember antidisestablishmentarianism
Just for fun, and as an example of how words are put together, let's break it down to see what it's about. What we have are a series of prefixes and suffixes attached to a root word. Anti-dis-establishment-arian-ism. Anti is against. Dis is like the slang word "dis" which comes from disrespect. Very similar to anti only it reverses the meaning of the root, it's like the prefix un in undo. Arian has nothing to do with Germans in this case, but it's a member of or an adherent of something. Like librarian or parliamentarian. Ism is a set of beliefs or principles like libertarianism or capitalism.
The establishment in question was the church in England way back when, which had special legal prerogatives, such as levying taxes, i.e., forced tithing. Removal of the church's special status in government and society was disestablishment. So, antidisestablishmentarianism is a belief against adherents of undoing the establishment of the church.
Not something that comes up much in everyday conversation, but now you can use it with confidence.
berserk (ber ZURK) adj. 1. Destructively or frenetically violent. 2. Deranged.
So, why the crazy Viking attacking a bear, you ask. In Norse mythology, a fierce warrior who fought in battle with frenzy and fury, and possibly hopped up on some kind of Scandinavian crack, was called a berserker. The word derives from the Norse, berserkr, "bear skin", the garment of choice for all self-respecting Vikings. As for attacking a bear bare-handed, you'd have to have gone berserk to attempt it.
I understand Vikings didn't wear helmets with horns. That's a Hollywood invention, I think. Or maybe it comes from opera costume designers. Neither of which are renowned for their understatement or historical accuracy.
quintessential (kwin te SEN shel) adj. Having the nature of the most typical instance; pure and concentrated in nature. (From Medieval Latin quinta essentia, fifth essence.)
This word comes from the Medieval idea that the world was made of four corruptible elements: earth, air, fire and water. The heavens were made of an incorruptible, or perfect fifth element. A perfect example is likened to this perfect fifth element, or quinta essentia, and so is said to be quintessential.
Compare the two lists of words in the illustration above. Can you tell the difference?
At first glance they might seem to be identical lists, but they're not. Take the last two, if you were injured a doctor might have your wound wound in a bandage. How about, when riding in a car, to avoid a close call close the door. See what I'm getting at? A female pig is a sow, and to spread seeds is to sow. The two words are spelled the same, are pronounced differently, and have different meanings. They are heteronyms.
heteronym (HET er e nim) noun One of two or more words with identical spelling, but different meanings and pronunciations.
It should now be clear that those two lists are different. Which word is which is impossible to tell out of context, though. Crossword puzzle fillers come across these all the time and they can be misleading if you think the clue is one word when it's the other.
On top of this, a few in the list are homonyms, words spelled differently but pronounced the same. For instance, roe and row; tier and tear; or so, sew, and sow. Then there's beau and bow, as well as bough and bow.
Sew now ewe no. See this for more "nym" fun.
portmanteau word (port MAN toe) noun A word formed by merging the sounds and meanings of two different words; for example, chortle from chuckle and snort.
Basically you can think of this as a one word pun. Like Seinfeld's male bimbo, "mimbo." Here's one for a flim-flam elf, "leprechaun-man." Sometimes this borders on being a malapropism, like an old pal of mine who used to say "supposably," a combination of supposedly and probably.
draconian (drah COE nee-un) adj. 1. Designating a law or code of extreme severity. 2. Harsh, rigorous.
Thought I'd turn the tables on Dracula, sometimes thought to be fashioned after Vlad the Impaler who was pretty harsh to put it mildly. You don't get the moniker "the Impaler" by being liberal minded and benevolent.
literally (LIT er-e-lee) adv. 1. In a literal or strict sense. 2. Really, actually.
This word is sometimes misused contrary to what it means, as did a sportscaster who described basketball players as "literally flying up and down the court." Really? Looked as if they were running and jumping to me. For them to be literally flying up and down the court they'd have to sprout wings or wear jet packs or something. Such phrases are actually meant metaphorically or figuratively, the very opposite of literally.
The best place to use "literally" is when a figure of speech can be taken for its literal meaning. For instance, if a bounty hunter bursts into the bathroom and finds a fugitive sitting on the toilet, then you can correctly say "he was literally caught with his pants down." And also figuratively.
rebus (REE bus) noun, A riddle composed of words or syllables depicted by symbols or pictures that suggest the sound of the words or syllables they represent.
fortnight (FORT nite) noun A period of 14 days and nights; two weeks.
Use this word and everyone will think you're English or maybe Canadian. Which I suppose would be correct if you are. Not that it's un-American for a Yank to use it, just unusual.
enormity (e NOR me-tee) noun 1. excessive wickedness, outrageousness. 2. a monstrous offense or evil, an outrage.
This is a word people often use incorrectly to mean enormousness, importance, or somesuch. It's one of those 20 dollar words folks like to sprinkle in their conversation to sound smart and educated. I've nothing against using big words, especially when they have a unique, specific meaning or connotation that another word can't convey. Or for comic effect. In either case, you need to know the real meaning to make it work. Using big words incorrectly just makes you appear silly and pretentious.
curmudgeon (ker MUJ en) noun A cantankerous person; an ill-tempered and disagreeable person.
surfeit (SUR fit) noun An excessive amount.
oxymoron (ok see MORE on) noun A rhetorical figure creating a satiric effect by the conjunction of incongruous or contradictory terms; i.e., "generous miser."
We all know the classic examples of these: "jumbo shrimp," "the sounds of silence," "real phony." But one I would add is "reality TV," which is programming that, while unscripted, is totally contrived and only happens because it's on TV.
I'm no Marshall MacLuhan (or Marshal Dillon) but I can see there's something odd about that label. Perhaps this is more in the way of an exquisite corpse, that old Dada device of an arbitrary combination of words that is syntactically correct, but makes no sense. Such as: furious, green sleep. Or was it Surrealist? I'll have to get back to you on that later.