Some Interesting Word/Phrase Facts

Paul V. Hartman

beg the question
     Means to avoid an issue. In particular, it means to avoid answering 
     a question by taking as an assumption something which has not been 
     proven. It is a debaters phrase, and goes back to the time of 
     Shakespeare. Unfortunately, today, writers using the phrase mean it
     as a substitution for:   "which leads to this question..."   and,
     unfortunately, most readers today interpret it likewise.

     What is now Nova Scotia was once called Acadia when settled 
     by the French, who were known as Acadians. Deported by order of the 
     British in 1755, they settled (largely) in southern Louisiana, in 
     several towns about 120 miles west of New Orleans. The name Acadian 
     eventually corrupted into cajun. Creole is a corrupted Spanish term 
     (originally: criollo, "native to the place"), which was applied to 
     early settlers of French or Spanish ancestry in the Western Hemi- 
     sphere. Both Cajun and Creole are now regularly associated with 

chaise longue   properly: SHAYS-long 
     Long since corrupted into CHAYS-lounge from the original French, 
     meaning "long chair."  I recommend the original pronunciation to 
     all those who would participate in restoring the language.

cognoscente   con-ya-SHEN-tee  (noun) (plural= centi) (Italian)
     a person of superior knowledge or taste; connoisseur
     "When it came to wine, he was one of the cognoscenti."

condign    con-DINE
     suitable; fitting; worthy and well deserved.
     "Hanging him was condign punishment for his heinous crime."

congeries   con-JER-eeze
     a collection of things; things piled up.
     Although the word ends with an s, it is both singular and plural, 
     as are the words "kudos" and "shambles".

     A dais (pronounced DAY-us, not DYE-us), is a raised platform for 
     speakers. A podium is a raised platform for one person. A lecturn
     is a reading stand for one person, usually with a light. A rostrum,
     originally meaning the prow of a ship, is a podium of substantial 
     character, which may indeed resemble the prow of a ship.

     The most frequent error is to use podium when the speaker means 
     lecturn. A lecturn in a church is usually called the pulpit.

declasse    DAY-class-SAY  (French)
     a person or thing which has lost the social status or class it
     once enjoyed.

desultory    DES-ul-tory
     rambling; haphazard; jumping from one place to another

disingenuous   dis-en-GEN-you-us
     insincere, crafty, cunning; Clintonesque

dolce far niente  DOLE-chay far knee-EN-tay   (Italian)
     without a care; sweetly doing nothing

fortnight   fort-night
     a contraction of "fourteen nights",   i.e.  two weeks.
     Some people regard "bimonthly" as occurring twice a month, and
     others regard it as meaning every other month. (Good dictionaries, 
     unfortunately, allow either definition.) If your meaning is twice 
     a month, use "fortnightly" and there will be no confusion.

fulsome   full-some
     sickeningly excessive; offensive; insincere.  Usually used as
     "fulsome praise" in which the intent is to convey insincere praise,
     exactly the opposite of the way it is interpreted by most readers.
     A word often incorrectly used by writers who think the word means
     "full" or "great."

gravitas  GRAV-a-TAHS
     Latin: "heavy"; same root as "gravity". Modern use is to identify
     a person of great ("weighty") reputation. "One can only hope that
     a man of gravitas will make him see his error before it kills him."

hagiography  HAGUE-ee-OGG-ra-fee
     an idealized or worshipful biography, such as the portrait of Bill
     Clinton regularly offered to us by his sycophants and poltroons.

inchoate    in-KOH-it
     something just beginning; commencing; incipient

l'esprit d'escalier    les-pree  des-cal-ee-ay
     (literally: "the spirit of the staircase")
     refers to that feeling of frustration you experience when, after the 
     opportunity has passed, you think of the perfect thing to say in an 
     argument or debate. (My guess is that the origin of this phrase comes 
     from a film well known to Frenchmen but unknown to me in which such a 
     recognition occurs to an actor while ascending a staircase.)

pasquinade   pass-qua-NADE
     a lampoon posted in a public place; a satire. The word derives
     from a statue in Rome ("Pasquino") upon which lampoons were
     posted for public reading. 

pastiche     pos-TICHE
     a composition, in writing, music, arts, etc., pretending to be
     original but which echoes qualities of something already known.

paradigm shift/sea change/quantum leap
     are expressions borrowed from various disciplines to indicate
     a sudden and dramatic change in scholarship, science, or culture.

port-manteau     port man-TWO
     French for suitcase. "Port manteau word" is one which has been
     created by blending two other words into a combined meaning. The
     word "smog" is a port-manteau combination of "smoke" and "fog".

prix fixe     PREE fix    (French)
     a fixed price. Used in restaurants to indicate that an entire 
     meal (and perhaps beverages) will be served at a fixed price. 
     (Not counting tax and tip.)   "PREE fix-ay" is cute but wrong.

pyrrhic victory    PEER-ick
     A pyrrhic victory is a victory so costly that it is near
     equivalent to a loss. It derives from the battle won by King Pyrus
     of Epirus over the Romans at Asculum in 279 BC. Noting the heavy
     losses his own side had taken, he is reported to have said: "One
     more such victory and I am lost."

qua      QWA
     an adverb meaning "in the function of". Some uses include:
     "The English King qua Head of the Church..."
     "The professor qua soccer coach..."

     a port-manteau word. It combines "recluse" and "seclusion". 

rococo     ra-KOH-koh
     a style of architecture, design, or decoration which is busy
     with ornament, curvature, detail, delicacy. The style
     dominated France in the early 18th Century.

roman a clef    row-MAN ah clay
     a style of novel in which the main or many characters are
     thinly disguised real people. The novel "Primary Colors" is
     a recent example in which the Clintons are portrayed with 
     fictional character names.

salad days
     are days of youth, characterized by naivete and inexperience;
     when one is "green". A frequent error is to use the phrase to
     denote a period of wealth.

segue     SEG-way
     An Italian word meaning "to follow". Originally used by
     musicians to mean a smooth transition from one selection to
     another without modulation, it has come to mean any smooth
     movement from one activity to another.

soigne    SWAN-ya   (French)
     an adjective meaning very well groomed.

sophomore    soph-a-more
     a contraction of two Greek words: "sophos" (wise) and "moros"
     (foolish), indicating that a second year student bears both
     qualities, with emphasis on the latter, thus "sophomoric" to
     indicate immaturity.

swan song
     the last song of a dying swan. Unfortunately, swans do not
     sing. But the last work of a creative artist is called his
     "swan song".

tournedos     TOUR-ne-DOUGH     (French;  final s  is silent)
     a filet mignon or a filet cut from the tip of a tenderloin,
     cooked in a certain way. My favorite is the Tournedos Rossini:
     served on a small toast raft with truffles and foie gras.

tsunami     soo-NAH-mee   (Japanese)
     a storm wave (tidal wave) initiated by earthquake or volcano.
     On the open sea, although massive, they usually rumble imper-
     ceptibly beneath the surface, but when they reach land (traveling
     at 400 mph) they produce waves 20 feet or higher, basically 
     wiping out everything in their path.

     comes from an Algonquin word, "p'tuksit", which means "animal
     with the round foot" (wolf). The name of the dinner jacket
     comes from the town of the same name, Tuxedo, NY, a rich
     community on the west bank of the Hudson River 40 miles north
     of Manhattan, where the Very Wealthy, in the mid-19th century,
     maintained "cottages" and gave each other lavish parties. One
     enterprising fellow did the bold thing (c. 1893) of cutting
     the tails off the formal dinner coat which was de rigueur at
     the time, and a name and a style was born.

usufruct    YOU-sa-FRUCT   (noun)
     Technically, the legal use of a property that does not belong to 
     you, although more broadly, "use and enjoyment", from the Latin 
     derivatives usus and fructus. "The deed included a usufruct to a 
     paved road at the front of the property."  Elected officials have 
     usufructs for vehicles and office space.

--= The Hartman Web Site © , 1995 - 2006 All rights reserved. =--