Word of the Week! Abjure

The OathbreakersLinda Hobgood, Director of UR’s Speech Center, ran across this term recently and nominated it. And why am I using a scene from Peter Jackson’s film? Wait for it.

It has a legal sound, to my untrained ear. But that is merely one definition given by the OED. In fact, the term generally means to renounce. In the obsolete legal sense, it meant to leave a place, rather akin to renouncing one’s citizenship in the era before passports. Most all senses of the word are historical or obsolete, yet the word has a formal sensibility that merits its continuance.

One usage does remain current, for breaking an oath. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s history of Middle Earth, I first learned the term “oathbreaker,” back when I was a teen. These poor fellows vowed to defend a kingdom against evil, and yet abjured their vows. They were cursed to become the living dead, until another king would call upon them to fulfill their oaths.

That’s rough justice. As for our word?

Let’s abjure abjuring abjure, and bring it back into our formal use.

Image of Aragorn calling upon the Oathbreakers of Middle Earth, courtesy of The Lord of the Ring Wiki.

Word of the Week! Loquacious

Blah Blah BlahSome time back, I considered the history of the term laconic. Today we meet its antithesis. It’s the stuff of Twitter: running one’s mouth constantly.

I hate Twitter, incidentally. I hated it long before it became a cesspool for the worst possible ideas imaginable. But I’m loquacious in a different way: I don’t mind running on at the mouth a bit, when needed about a complex topic. Twitter, like social media generally, encourage shallow and small bits of discourse, ones disconnected from deeper meaning, often about vital and thorny subjects.

I know educators use Twitter well, but to me, there’s already a lot of talk, and not enough listening, even in our circles.

“Loquacious” has not changed its meaning much over the years. John Milton used our Latinate term just as we do today, for too much talking.

Shall I be brief about a windy subject?

One old usage, sadly labeled “poetic” and with a last recorded instance of 1888, relates to the chattering of birds.

You know, twittering birds. Tweet tweet tweet.

Word of the Week! Malaise

President CarterFeeling it, aren’t you? A sense that things have stagnated, that the future is unsure. A second wave. A troubled election. Monuments that seemed immovable pulled down, or rather like Swamp Castle from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, pulled down, set on fire, then tossed into lakes. Despite my personal sense that we will make progress on racial justice, there’s a gnawing…something in the humid air.

Malaise is that feeling. If you recall the 1970s, as I do, it was a popular term then, too. Though President Carter never used it in a televised speech about a national crisis of confidence, the word got associated with this event. I sure miss his empathy, right now. I miss a President who would turn down the thermostat and put on a Cardigan.

I belong to a group called Malaise Motors, a tongue-in-cheek group of enthusiasts “celebrating the mediocre cars of the 70s 80s and early 90s.” Our perverse celebration of the banal arises from a sense that a period of stagnation lay over the nation then wallowing in the wake of Vietnam, Watergate, Oil Crises, and more. The cars were merely gutless, after the Muscle-Car era. They were not uniformly awful. And today, with a modicum of skill, you can (as I do) work on them yourself. Try that on a rolling computer that we call a “car” today. I digress.

That digression aside (I have a T-Shirt with a drawing of my Buick with the words “Malaise 74” under it) let’s have a peek at our word. Off the bat, it screams “French loan word,” because English lacks those feelings of cosmic-bum-outedness (we got ennui from the French, after all).  As I usually do, I ran over to the OED for counsel.

Mon Dieu! I am correct. It’s a loan word dating to only the 18th Century (perhaps no one who spoke English felt any malaise before then).  We talk about loan words a great deal in my course that prepares Writing Consultants; English has an amazing talent for nicking words from other tongues. The debate rages as to whether this happens because we can only experience things for which we already have a word (the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) or whether all languages share a universal grammar (Noam Chomsky’s hypothesis). I hold with the former theory, adding one caveat: once we experience a novel situation, we invent or borrow a word from folk who have experienced it.

Want to argue about that with me? Or send us a word? We need words and metaphors our way all summer, by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image courtesy of JSTOR Daily

 

Word of the Week! Vouchsafe

Downton Abbey CastIn March, I featured noisome as our word; like today’s lexical item, it appears repeatedly in Peter Ackroyd’s mammoth work, London: The Biography. I’m almost finished with its nearly 800 pages of text. I have not been vouchsafed so many uses of “vouchsafe” since I took a class in Colonial Literature, in graduate school.

Sounds old, doesn’t it? Even on Downton Abbey, I’ve not heard it. Perhaps Dame Maggie Smith’s character would have heard it…as a child.

The etymology is common-sensical: we still “vouch” for someone. To “vouch safe” would be, more or less, to safely trust something with another.

To be honest, I was lazy about the word, which is a shame. I assumed it meant to entrust something to another person, but as a casual search in the OED reveals, that trust can come with a measure of disdain. The first definition given includes the sense of granting or bestowing; the second includes doing so with a whiff of condescension, as in this 1660 usage from the OED:

“His Lordship may be pleased..to voutchafe a meetinge..to Sir Walter Dungan.”

Oh lucky Sir Walter, to bask in the glow of His Lordship! At times like that, I’m less fond of Downton Abbey than I am of Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry.

The spelling has changed since the days of Sir Walter, but the verb can be used in a transitive sense, as in the earlier example or one the OED provides from a decade later, “to vouchsafe an eye of fond desire,” quoting poet John Milton from 1671. The one intransitive use of the term is now long obsolete.

I would vouchsafe you our DVDs of Downton Abbey, especially after the third season, when things got increasingly formulaic for me. That said, I don’t want you to think me a condescending snob trying to make you learn new words from the Crawley family.

Send your words and metaphors our way all summer, by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image of Downton Abbey blatantly stolen, as part of an anti-monarchist direct action.

Metaphors of the Month! Navigate and Crossing the Rubicon

Mouth of the Rubicon RiverI faced a conundrum this month; I have two apt metaphors. Since they are related, let’s discuss them both. The first is an everyday word now being used metaphorically. It came my way via Ingrid Lasrado, UR’s Assistant to the EVP and Chief Operating Officer, Business Affairs.

“Navigate” sounds easy enough, as a word. As a metaphor, however, it’s loaded.

One of my students, Reda Ansar, used the verb in just that way in her final paper for the Spring term. Reda contends that “I believe that with focus and determination, we can learn to navigate this strange new situation.” We think of navigating a physical space on earth or in space, but not a situation. Is this usage as novel as the virus that has changed everything for us? As always, the OED becomes our arbiter. It’s not new but is, relatively speaking, recent, dating only to the late 1800s. It means “To control, manage, direct the course.” Those it often refers to directing a vehicle or riding animal, the entry notes the figurative sense we are after.

Reda’s example proves apt. We steer ourselves physically, emotionally, and financially through troubled and unknown waters.

One body of water, the Rubicon, provides a second and related metaphor for June. Before it was a burly model of the Jeep Wrangler named for a famous trail, the river Rubicon gained fame for its use in metaphor.

We, as a campus, crossed the Rubicon in March, by making decisions that will change us during and after the crisis. It’s an old metaphor with classical roots, but one I love. Julius Caesar’s decision to march on Rome, thus literally crossing the Rubicon with his legion, broke with tradition and marked a point of no return.

So we’ll soon see more of what awaits us  on the other side of our Rubicon. Stay healthy and send your words and metaphors in, by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

image courtesy of Wikipedia: River Rubicone in Bellaria, Italy. Picture by Stefano Bolognini, 2008.

Words of the Week! Obsolescent & Obsolete

Polish Cavalryman 1938I suppose this is, like everything else, a post about the pandemic. I’ve been seeing our words of the week in reference to models of learning and college life that are not longer useful, even worn out. Some bold claims are being made that residential education itself may soon be “obsolete.”

While I doubt that, it seems reasonable to hazard a guess about which practices of ours might be “obsolescent.”

There’s a shade of difference that I knew, however, as a geeky pre-teen obsessed with the history of technology of warfare, in particular The Second World War.

Looking at my home library, there’s a book I read at age 11, Martin Blumeson’s Sicily: Whose Victory? part of a epic series of paperbacks published by Ballantine Books. I think I own about 50 of the titles, and the writing was decent, often by noted historians and with introductions by famous people involved in the actual events from a quarter century before. In the book, there’s a photo with the caption “German flak guns guard obsolescent Italian fighters” with some biplanes in the background.

I heard, and forget the source, that World War 2 began with biplanes and cavalry charges, yet ended with jet fighters and atomic weapons. By war’s end, the two military traditions and their equipment were certainly obsolete, which The OED defines as “out of date.” Yes, a biplane is a flying machine, but not one to employ in combat in an age of jet fighters. The word is a “borrowing from Latin” and dates in the OED’s reckoning to at least the 16th Century. I like that it’s really unchanged in meaning, too. A useful word, that!

As for things that are going out of use, but not gone yet? I have always guessed that fit the meaning of “obsolescent.” Turning again to The OED, I can see that the Ballantine Books series taught me well. This word means “becoming obsolete; going out of use or out of date.”  Thus, for my military examples, horses were used throughout the war, but until the struggle against the Taliban, they did not factor into the military planning of any great power. For biplanes, they are with us but as stunt planes or objects of nostalgia.

Funny how, in a time of pandemic, it’s comforting to use examples from a long-ago, if terrible, conflict. Perhaps that’s because we do not recognize what is obsolescent about our way of life until it’s obsolete?

Send your words and metaphors our way all summer, by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image of Polish cavalryman, 1938, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Word of the Week! Cryptolect

WhisperThis septic tank needed a glass of Vera Lynn after a bit of rabbiting about the brass tacks of Jah Rule next year.

I’ve just used the most famous cryptolect, Cockney rhyming slang, to tell you that I’m a Yank who needed his martini after talking about the facts ahead for our school year.  You might, if you are a certain age, have guessed “brass tacks,” but the other terms, I’m guessing, remained confusing. None so much as “rabbit” for “talk,” since the mystery term is shortened from “rabbit and pork.” There are so many invented languages, many of them merely collections of slang, that mark membership in a subculture. Some like Thieves’ Cant have a long and rich history and crossed oceans: you might know what a “mark” is if you watched enough classic crime drama.

Such a secret language may be intended to conceal its meaning from outsiders (the “crypto” connoting secrecy); thieves don’t want their marks to know that they are about to be conned. It appears ironic that crytpocurrency is as likely to be used by criminals as law-abiding citizens.

Speculative fiction is full of invented languages; I’m not thinking so much of the complete systems that J.R.R. Tolkien developed but rather the English dialect of a cult of asteroid-dwelling primitives called “The Scientific People” in Bester’s The Stars My Destination or the post-nuclear English of Hoban’s Riddley Walker. The new dialects have an internal logic and convey membership in the group.

We need not travel to the future or distant worlds to find cryptolects. If your own family has terms that convey an entire story but that remain inaccessible to outsiders, you use a cryptolect.  My father refused to teach his children Arabic, save for certain words and terms he wanted to use in various settings, so he could convey a message, secretly, around anyone not in our extended family.

Despite an ancient history and promising future, the word of the week is itself a newcomer. The OED gives earliest recorded uses from the 1980s.

As always, please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Creative-Commons Image “Whisper” by Jamine Gray at Flickr.

 

Metaphors of the Month! From the Garden…

Winter Garden / Low TunnelI have a guilty secret: I am enjoying the lockdown. It coincides with the finest season for putting in a garden. With that in mind, I’m going to bring out metaphors for May that are garden-related.

This post will do double duty in my other blog, Tractorpunk, where I write about sustainability and DIY practices for a newly (not even a decade) rural homesteader. I’ve also collected metaphors about time over there. Use this year’s extra time on your hands well; may I suggest planting a garden? I love growing and preserving (canning, dehydrating, freezing) as much of my own food as possible. I hope that’s a long-term impact of this pandemic. We need more home cooking with local food.

Many of these metaphors do indeed work in academic prose. Lots of them I learned from my mother, an avid gardener. She would sing “I’m a lonely little petunia in an onion patch” when weeding. I got my green thumb from her.

Bad seed: Nothing good comes of bad seeds in the greenhouse. They produce stunted plants or none at all. Metaphorically, a person is a bad seed if they come from a family with a history of trouble.

Down the garden path: I’ve not a clue why this metaphor is negative. It means to be led astray, to be deceived. To me, the garden path is one of the most pleasant places to wander. There’s no deception in a well-tended garden.

Early frost / blooming early / blighted: Though not all early bloomers come to grief, early frost is a sad situation, in the garden or in a person’s life. Things go awry early, and failure results. At least a watchful gardener can put buckets on top of small plants or drape row-cover over the lettuce (I had lettuce all winter this year). You cannot do that for a person who blooms early and then is blighted. Some of us are, however, late bloomers.

Hay rake

Make hay when the sun shines: I have a very small hay-making operation, so small that instead of purchasing a big baler, I hand-bale my cut hay on about an acre of tall grass. The yield is 3 or 4 small bales annually. It seasons for a year in my barn and then becomes weed-block or in our raised-beds or litter in our chicken coops.

No matter the method, haymaking depends on a stretch of sunny weather, preferably one with enough breeze to dry the cut stalks after they are raked (my favorite part of the operation is hand-raking with a beautiful handmade Italian hay rake). Wet weather ruins hay, making it rot on the ground.

So metaphorically, there’s a time for any activity: do it in its best season, neither hurrying it nor waiting too long: not quite the same as Carpe Diem, but certainly a metaphorical cousin.  For problems, you want to nip them in the bud.

Peas in a pod: As in, “like two peas in a pod.” Okay, it’s a simile, not a metaphor, but it’s Mother’s Day and my mother was fond of this one. It can mean anything identical, but for mom it mean two people who did the same things, usually something stupid. Her wit was withering.

Reaping what you sow: I tend to over-seed my beds and then do a lot of thinning. We also are putting a six-acre field into wildlife management, which means suppressing invasive plants without chemicals but with a heavy application (think, tons) of buckwheat, clover, sunflower, bean and winter rye seed. That is most certainly not sown by hand but with a large device that looks like a rocket motor, inverted, behind my small tractor.Seeder with tractorBut if you put out no seeds, or the wrong ones, you get what you get, in the garden or outside it. When I learned to code, we said “garbage in, garbage out” about sloppy programming habits.  So much trouble results from poor planning and poor execution.

Snake in the grass: one of my least-favorite things. I keep the grass in and around the garden short, since last year I shot four Copperheads right in the garden or by the house. I will spare you the photo of a dead one shot in our chicken run, stretched out by my shotgun barrel–at 30″ they were the same length. In the woods, it’s another matter: snakes can go their own way. I don’t mind Black Racers or Rat Snakes at all, often moving them to spots where they can eat mice and keep the Copperheads at bay; I welcome black snakes into my barn and garage, though I keep an eye out! The metaphor of something dangerous in hiding conveys well with this metaphor. Watch your step around certain people!

Tender shoots: I hear this one each time a recovery comes after an economic downturn. But it’s true: the first shoots of new growth are really tender. They break or freeze easily.

Tough row to hoe: Bermuda or “wire” grass loves to sneak into our raised beds, and I don’t employ any herbicide or pesticides, preferring labor to cancer. So this metaphor comes into play a lot, when the weeds won’t come out of the ground and the bugs won’t go away; metaphorically, we all face similar tasks constantly. I think of this term as Southern, but it may well be universal.

Transplant: I grow a few hundred seedlings every year, moving from indoor grow-light station to greenhouse to raised beds. Whenever we move a plant from one growing medium to another, it’s transplanted. Think of how this metaphor works for humans. We are also uprooted. We put down new roots. We might decide to bloom where we are planted. Or we may wither in the wrong place or job. Mom was metaphorical here, too, about plants. When transplanting, she anthropomorphized her plants, saying “their feelings get hurt.” But in time, the plants would “get over it.”

Weeding and thinning: After venomous snakes, my least favorite thing. Yet you cannot grow plants as I do, without herbicides, without a lot of hand weeding. We weed in our lives all the time, from our personal libraries to our “friends” lists (I seldom do that, as I don’t accept friend offers unless I know someone in person). We also thin things, a more pleasant occupation since the over-sown seedling can go right to a flock of very eager chickens.

Windfall: Often paired with “profit,” in economic journalism, but in an orchard wind often means an early crop of perhaps underripe fruit. My one experience with windfalls has been with tall persimmon trees. The fruit is best after frost, and it does not leave the tree easily. I have to shake the tree, pick low-hanging fruit, or wait for windfall before I bake my Thanksgiving persimmon pie.

We keep bees and chickens, and these provide fertile soil for other clusters of metaphors. Stay tuned! If I missed any of your favorite garden metaphors, send them my way. I’ll be harvesting them all summer!

As always, please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Word of the Week! Unprecedented

HimalayasProfessor Joe Hoyle gave me a word that helps out in my ceaseless war against the word “super,” that boring and overused adjective that I consider lazy in speech, unacceptable in writing.

We have experienced an unprecedented health crisis, at least in our lifetimes; no one living can recall the 1918-19 Spanish Flu. So in many media reports, from unemployment claims to clear air over Indian cities (pictured) to empty New York streets, we see the adjective “unprecedented” appear. To say that “Indians enjoyed unprecedented views of the Himalayas” is not, however, correct unless a person were under a certain age. Residents of Indian cities are, however, experiencing cleaner air and distant views, the best in 30  years.

That’s not the same as “unprecedented.” “Unprecedented in his lifetime” might qualify matters.

Our word means without precedent.

Where does it come from? To my ear at least, it sounds modern. I would, however, be wrong. The OED provides a first recorded usage of 1641. The word precedent, itself, is Latinate and thus, with ancient roots.

Be careful, as with any “super useful” word, not to overuse our word of the week. Soon, its currency will reach unprecedented levels. Reach deeper into the dictionary for words such as “extraordinary,” “novel” (the virus is called a novel coronavirus, since it’s a never-before-encountered form), “unique,” “unparalleled,” or other exact or near synonyms.

Please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Writing Consultant of the Year, Rose Ferraro

Rose during study abroadEach year, faculty members who work with Writing Consultants nominate one graduating Consultant who has done exemplary work with our writers. This year, Professors Porcher Taylor in the School of Professional and Continuing Studies and Yucel Yanikdag of History nominated Rose Ferraro, our 2020 winner.

Rose has been with the program for a while; I distinctly recall her quiet but insightful presence in the training class, before she began work in the Writing Center and with faculty teaching FYS. She has a careful eye for sentence-level work but also a clear grasp of how to shape an argument.

Rose is double-majoring in global studies (with a concentration in politics and government) and Italian, and minoring in anthropology. She studied abroad in Maastricht, Netherlands in the spring of her sophomore year. While abroad she studied a wide range of subjects, noting “in addition to classes on conflict resolution, foreign policy, healthcare, and migration, I had two courses on argumentation theory.” Rose continued work in these areas when she returned to campus. I know from her professors that writers struggling with the transition to college-level argumentation benefitted from her experience in this area.

She writes that she ” was recommended to be a writing consultant by Dr. Roof when I was a student in her FYS section ‘Healthcare Policy and Politics: The U.S. and the World.’ I wasn’t sure about it at first, but after being asked to write articles about legal writing for the New York State Bar Association Journal during my internship at the New York County Supreme Court, I decided to enroll in the training course that fall. I went abroad the following semester, but came back and worked for Dr. Taylor for a year. I went on to work for Dr. Kuti, then Dr. Yanikdag, a former professor of mine, requested me for my final semester. While on campus, I also volunteered with Higher Achievement Richmond, where I helped eighth grade students write high school application essays, and worked as a drill instructor for Italian 221 and in the Curriculum Materials Center (the education library). It’s kind of funny, actually, because when I came to Richmond, I was determined to pursue law, specifically prosecution. However, over the years, I’ve found myself becoming more and more interested in positions that grant me the opportunity to help others grow and reach their potential not just as writers, but as individuals who bring to the table unique experiences and outlooks.”

I asked about her plans for next year. She writes, “they’re up in the air right now due to the COVID-19 situation. I had been invited by the Peace Corps to serve as an English teacher in the Eastern Caribbean, and I was going to accept that, but all departures have been postponed until at least October. I had also been accepted into American University, among others, but the state- and country-wide lockdowns aren’t really conducive to earning a master’s in U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security like I had wanted to do if the Peace Corps didn’t pan out, so… I’m looking into civil service and government jobs that are still accepting applications.”

We are delighted to have all of our seniors as mentors for their younger peers this year, but as with Rose, we are sorry to lose them. That said,  we know they’ll have many adventures ahead of them, as the world returns to its normal way of life. And may that be so for all of you. UR will plan a Commencement for the class of 2020, and I plan to attend so I can congratulate them in person.