Word of the Week! Insolent

Professor Joanna Drell, History, stopped me in the hall today with a nomination for my “word thing.” I was delighted, as I do have a “thing for words” (literally and metaphorically) and also because “insolent” was a thing I’d been called many times in grade school by nuns. Probably “you insolent thing!” got pinned to me a few times.

Am I insolent now in my tone? And where does our word originate?

My teachers and mentors probably (and rightly) got after me for being “contemptuous of rightful authority,” as The OED entry notes in its second definition. I often still am, usually asking “by whose rights?”

Other definitions do not fall far from that one, though the first strikes me as curious, “Proud, disdainful, haughty, arrogant, overbearing; offensively contemptuous of the rights or feelings of others. Said of the powerful, rich, or successful, their actions.” The OED notes that this usage has become obsolete, but I find it fascinating how our word got associated with wealth and privilege.

Tell that to Robespierre, on your way to the guillotine.

Obsolete, really? There I am, being insolent again. The word, from Latin, proves as old as insolence itself, with a first-recorded usage dating to 1386.

Nominate a word by stopping me in the hall or by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

Insolent kid (I know that face!) courtesy of Wikipedia