Word of the Week! Acrologia

The King from Huckleberry FinnIf this word is not in your personal dictionary–I’m looking at you, students–put it there. No, it does not appear in any form in The OED, yet. A friend shared it with me a week ago, but it’s a common-enough stylistic error in student work:

  • He is considered imminent in his field of study (instead of “eminent”)
  • The committee redacted the report (instead of “edited”)

Usually, students and other careless folk employ acrologia alongside a poorly used thesaurus: in the attempt to sound more academic, they sound “off” or even hilarious. It also marks the confidence man’s trade. Consider The “funeral orgies” noted by The King in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He means “obsequies,” and his attempt to cover up his mistake would make any first-year student practicing the art of BS proud:

It’s a word that comes from the Greek word ORGO, which means outside or open or abroad, and the Hebrew word JEESUM, which means to plant, cover up, or inter. So, you see, funeral orgies are simply open, public funerals. 

Since The King is trying to punch above his intellectual weight (which is slight) it’s acrologia.

Acrologia is a subset of malapropism. We all do that, but we often encounter it afflicting ridiculous characters in drama, since actors first stepped on stage.  Malapropism can cause low-brow guffaws when coupled with a non-native speaker’s natural mistakes in vocabulary or pronunciation. Dr. Caius, noted in last week’s post, says in one line of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” that he shall be the turd, when in fact he means third.

Acrologia also would not, in my estimation, include instances of mistaken idioms. as in “We use to go to Florida every year” (instead of “used to go”) or “suppose to” instead of “supposed to.” These errors come from how we write out the sounds of speech, not from an attempt to sound academic. The words remain the correct term, but the forms do not.

Some words that may have once provided examples of acrologia slide under the door, over time. In American English, even formal writing, we no longer make much distinction between “reluctant” and “reticent,” the latter (to me) implying a reluctance to speak: that person of few words in our talky-talk times.

At our Web server I’ve a list of commonly confused words that I post for my students. They have a week to correct the instances or lose 10 points on a paper. If you have more such confused and confusing words, send them, along with other good words and metaphors, by e-mail (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 the King faking his sorry about “Funeral Orgies” stolen blatantly, in honor of The King and The Duke.